Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 04, 2018 - 8:00 am

Heater used to thaw pipes led to devastating Iqaluit fire

“There was no continuous monitoring… Open flames should always be monitored"

BETH BROWN
Jamie Natakok (left), and his family lost their home in the Jan. 1 fire that destroyed building 2217 in Iqaluit. Here he stands at the Grind and Brew Café with his coworker Daniel Hillman. The coffee shop put a call out for donations to help families who lost their homes in the first Iqaluit fire of 2018. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Jamie Natakok (left), and his family lost their home in the Jan. 1 fire that destroyed building 2217 in Iqaluit. Here he stands at the Grind and Brew Café with his coworker Daniel Hillman. The coffee shop put a call out for donations to help families who lost their homes in the first Iqaluit fire of 2018. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
These bags of clothing represent some of the donations gathered for families displaced by the Jan. 1 fire on the Apex Road. The items are being housed at the Roman Catholic parish hall in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
These bags of clothing represent some of the donations gathered for families displaced by the Jan. 1 fire on the Apex Road. The items are being housed at the Roman Catholic parish hall in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
This is all that's left of the building 2217, as of Jan. 3. The five-unit apartment owned by Northview REIT was destroyed in an overnight fire that started Jan. 1. No one was injured. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
This is all that's left of the building 2217, as of Jan. 3. The five-unit apartment owned by Northview REIT was destroyed in an overnight fire that started Jan. 1. No one was injured. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

It was a diesel-run heater used to thaw frozen pipes that led to the first Iqaluit fire of 2018.

The City of Iqaluit’s fire department received a call at 10:55 p.m. on Jan. 1 for a fire that would leave building 2217, a five-unit housing complex on Apex Road, in ruins and its residents displaced by the time the flames were fully extinguished at about 9 a.m. on Jan. 2.

Thankfully, no one was harmed and the fire did not damage units on either side of the now-flattened building.

It was resident Gordon Higgins who first detected the fire at its source—a heater set up outdoors with a hose that was forcing warm air into a utility space beneath the floor of Higgins’ unit.

The heater was set up that day to thaw frozen water pipes, after residents told building owner Northview Apartment REIT that the building had no running water.

Higgins said he was home watching TV when his common-law partner, Madeline Atagooyuk, first smelled smoke.

“I went outside and checked under the house. I saw this orange glow and right away I knew what it was.”

He unplugged the heater and ran to check the crawl space under his apartment, a utility area used to service plumbing for the entire building, where the heating hose was run into.

After tearing away some pieces of pink insulation, Higgins saw just how bad it was.

“Smoke started coming up, and flames. I tried to douse it with the fire extinguisher, but the tiny fire extinguisher that the unit has, that wasn’t going to do nothing. At that point it was already too late.”

In the middle of all this, he had called the fire department and the property manager, and told Atagooyuk to advise their neighbours to get out of the building.

“Everything happened so fast,” he said.

When the fire department arrived, icy pumps and frozen hoses caused by cold temperatures made getting water to the fire a challenge, said deputy fire chief Nelson Johnson, who added, “water doesn’t like to travel when it’s frozen.”

Three fire trucks and two ambulances responded and 22 firefighters fought the flames. The building was flattened in order to quell the fire, Johnson said. 

The incident marks the largest fire in Iqaluit since last winter, when a six-plex housing unit in Iqaluit’s Happy Valley neighbourhood was gutted in an overnight fire.

One man suffered from smoke inhalation, but did not need medical attention, Johnson said.

Residents in the adjacent buildings were temporarily relocated for safety reasons.

As for the heater that caused the fire, it was not being properly monitored, Johnson said.

“There was no continuous monitoring… Open flames should always be monitored and maintained and have adequate room for air,” he said. 

The fire department is still investigating the incident. Johnson could not yet confirm the dollar value of the lost building

Resident Jamie Natakok said he had been playing a video game when he smelled something burning, but when he couldn’t find the source of the smoke he “shrugged it off,” he said.

A few minutes later there was a knock on the door, from Atagooyuk, alerting the Natakok family of the fire.

Natakok said his grandmother gathered her sewing and his sister made sure to take the family cell phones and “we headed out.”

“It was terrifying and shocking,” he said. “The first night it happened everyone was devastated, but when we heard we had a house, we were pretty excited.”

The Natakok family found out they have a new home on Jan. 3.

After the fire, the family and other displaced residents were staying at the Capital Suites, also owned by Northview Apartment REIT.

Higgins told Nunatsiaq News that shelter is available to families impacted by the fire until Jan. 15 at the Capital Suites. 

When Daniel Hillman of the Grind and Brew Café found out that his co-worker, Natakok, had lost his home, he put a call out on Facebook for donations to help families displaced by the fire.

The small café soon had more donations coming in than it could handle, so they found drop-off space at the Roman Catholic parish hall.

Donation times for cash, clothing and household needs were set up at the parish hall on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.

“We included everyone,” Hillman said. “The city really has a big heart, the donations are really good.”

The Manitoba Red Cross also responded to the emergency by providing immediate help in the form of hygiene kits, blankets, and vouchers for food and clothing.

The Manitoba Red Cross similarly helped victims of a major fire in March 2011 that destroyed apartment building 4100 and victims of a fire in February 2012 that destroyed a row of 22 townhouse units at the Creekside complex, as well as victims of other fires.

Anyone who would still like to donate can contact the Grind and Brew or Mary-Lee Aliyak on Facebook.

Aliyak, who has contact information for all the families, said there have been lots of clothing donated, but that the need doesn’t stop there.

“What these people really need is just anything to start a home, whether it be towels, blankets, small kitchen appliances, dishes, cutlery, garbage bins, brooms, cleaning supplies, stuff to start up a home again.”

Standing at the parish hall, she noted that one table was looking bereft of household donations because a family had just come by to pick up the items.

“The public is really good at helping out people with tragedy,” she said. 

While everyone made it out of the building safe, it was a close call for Higgins’ dog Dakota, who was in a kennel in the porch and was nearly forgotten in the commotion.

Reminded of the dog by Atagooyuk, Higgins barrelled back through the smoke to grab Dakota before it was too late. 

Higgins and Atagooyuk are now in Ottawa visiting family while they get re-oriented.

He thanked everyone in Iqaluit for the generosity shown following the fire.

“The support has been phenomenal,” he said, becoming emotional over the phone.

The feeling that comes from the community outpouring beats the heavy heartedness left from losing his home, he said.

“It’s been amazing. I just want to thank everyone. I can’t say thank you enough, I’m glad everyone is safe.” 

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(19) Comments:

#1. Posted by Northview tenant on January 04, 2018

I hope someone sues them over this. As a tenant of northview I can say they have been responsible for damage caused by negligence in our unit. As a landlord they are horrible, wait months to get things fixed that they didn’t install properly… And then they damage it in the process. I have had so much damage from uninsulated pipes freezing it is unreal… There should be a lawsuit against them to stop their negligence.

#2. Posted by Cold weather on January 04, 2018

Happy to hear the families are safe and thank you to the fire dept who worked all night.

I’m concerned to see that it took “a while” for the water to flow. I don’t blame the firefighters, that seems like a planning issue. The thought of a fire spreading in my apartment and the firefighters not being able to begin fighting it scares the crap outta me. -30 and -40 isn’t strange weather, it’s the everyday norm here. I’d like to see the city and fire chiefs work on quicker deployment solutions.

#3. Posted by Thank You on January 04, 2018

Thank you to Gordon Higgins and his partner for quick-action.  That sounds like a scary ordeal to have gone through, but without Gordon and his partner to alert the neighbours, it could have been worse.  God bless.

#4. Posted by Paul Murphy on January 04, 2018

Well I certainly hope that Northview and the Hamlet both have their insurance premiums up to date. Northview for leaving an unattended heater at the site and the hamlet for not ensuring that a workable water system for the firemen was in place. Both groups should be on their knees today thanking the big fella that no one was injured including employees.

I also hope that the residents don’t just accept some token payment for their losses and inconvenience. Band together you folks and get a good lawyer working for you.

#5. Posted by Tenants on January 04, 2018

An unfortunate accident. I feel bad for everyone involved, including the employees from Northview.
That said, Northview REIT as a company shows very little interest in their properties. They do not hire the appropriate number of maintenance workers and property managers, they have no security, including surveillance cameras, in most of their buildings. Some buildings literally look like animals have been caged up together, with feces, blood, spit, holes, urine all over the walls and hallway. The cleaners clean it as much as they can and the animals are right behind them the second they leave, flinging crap. No one makes an effort to stop them or find out who they are. Their solution to major problems like burst pipes, etc, are band aid solutions. Their solution to smaller problems, like broken locks, plumbing, etc is to say they don’t have time. Hire more workers. They are a rich company but they do not care about the residential properties or tenants.

#6. Posted by dave on January 04, 2018

If it wasn’t for Gordon and his spouse then we would be attending a funeral now. This level of negligence is unforgivable because it involves human lives. Thanks God no soul was hurt.

#7. Posted by Still under investigation on January 04, 2018

The mayor tweeted that this is still “under investigation”. I guess we shouldn’t jump to conclusions even though there was A GIANT FRICKEN FLAME SHOOTING OUT FROM UNDER THE HOUSE.

When the “investigation” is done, I hope she and the fire chief address the issue of the firefighters not being able to do their jobs when they arrived at the scene because there was no water. Maybe the house would still be standing if there was water.

#8. Posted by No Insurance on January 04, 2018

How can any company expect insurance will cover this when it is fully stated by a witness this open flame was not attended.  Every insurer would cite every clause to deny coverage. 

This will have to be on the contractor and REIT.

#9. Posted by Allison on January 04, 2018

While I’m happy to hear that no one was injured, I am concerned that someone would leave a dog in a kennel outside in those cold temperatures. I find that cruel and inhumane.  Dogs and cats freeze to death.  If someone can’t properly take care of an animal, please don’t get one.

#10. Posted by Read the news!!! on January 04, 2018

At ALLISON, the dog kennel was inside the apartment in a warm home, read the news!!

#11. Posted by Madeline on January 04, 2018

Allison where did you get this information anyway? Dog was in the porch kennel and Gord risked his own life to get her out of the porch. There is no way we would be that inhumane. I suggest you get your facts straight before commenting.

Also thank you to the whole community for your support, I have so much gratitude towards the comfort and support we have been receiving.

#12. Posted by Smart on January 04, 2018

Allison #9.  Please read the full article as Mr. Higgins went back into the house to save his German Shepherd/Huskie dog from death due to the fire.

#13. Posted by Qaluunat on January 04, 2018

@Allison #9 the dog was in the porch inside porch…

#14. Posted by Casey on January 04, 2018

Allison - where exactly does it say that the dog was outside? It does say that the kennel was in a porch. I think you should be a little more careful with your comments in this situation!

#15. Posted by Facts on January 04, 2018

#9 Allison, it doesn’t say anywhere that the dog was left in a kennel outside. It says the dog was in the porch area, the entrance. And it’s a puppy, and it was at 11pm. The dog was likely in his kennel for the night. Many good dog owners do this at night and when they are not home and when they are training their young dogs. It is recommended actually. Seriously though, that’s what you chose to zero in on in this story? I’m a dog lover, but attacking the people in this story is inapproproriate, especially considering their home just burned to the ground through no fault of their own, and their vigilance saved lives.
Leaving a dog outside in a kennel in this weather is cruel and inhumane, but that isn’t what happened.

#16. Posted by Leah on January 04, 2018

Allison, he left the dog in the kennel inside the house. (Porch as in front entry) he does not have an outdoor dog and they both are very good pet owners….. just to be clear because your statement is very causing…..

#17. Posted by Allison on January 05, 2018

I am very sorry for the misunderstanding. A porch here is considered to be located outside.  I am happy to read that the puppy was indoors.  There have been many stories lately about animals freezing to death outside, so I was focused on that.  Of course I am devastated for the people who lost their homes.  Please accept my apologies. I meant no offense to anyone.  Thank you.

#18. Posted by Gordon on January 05, 2018

@Allison, thank you for your apology, totally accepted.  I understand some porches may be in the cold and can understand the confusion but I can assure you our pups are well taken care of.  Thank you again for showing that you care.

#19. Posted by Is that you talkin...? on January 05, 2018

The CBC article on this story included a reference to Deputy Fire Chief Stephane Dionne’s idea that there should be a bylaw that requires that homeowners would be responsible for clearing the snow around fire hydrants. This is absolutely ridiculous! The hydrants are part of municipal infrastructure and it is clearly the City’s responsibility to ensure there is access. Perhaps the Deputy Fire Chief should focus his attention on finding a solution to the freezing hoses instead, as this has always been a problem when there are fires during the cold days of winter. Cold weather is not unique in the world and there must be a solution somewhere.

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