KUGAARUK, Nunavut â€” Officials are scrambling to find classroom space for hundreds of children after a suspicious fire in bitter cold destroyed the only school in a remote Arctic hamlet.
“We’ve lost everything here,” said John Ivey, senior administrative official for Kugaaruk, a community of just under 1,000 people on Nunavut’s central Arctic coast.
“The school’s totally gone. Everything in there is gone.
“People are in shock.”
No one was hurt in the blaze.
“That’s the silver lining,” Ivey said. “We’ll pick up the pieces.”
The fire began late Tuesday night and wasn’t extinguished until Wednesday morning.
RCMP have called the blaze suspicious and are investigating along with the territorial fire marshall’s office and the local fire department.
Ivey said the firefighting effort was hampered by extremely cold temperatures which reached -60 C.
“The water lines kept freezing up. They guys worked very hard all night long. They were extremely cold. We kept bringing them in out of the cold.”
He said the fire might have been contained if the hamlet had better equipment.
“Perhaps if we had the proper equipment we might have been able to put out the fire, but we just didn’t. A second pumper truck would have been good.”
The fire also threatened the community office as well as the hamlet’s power plant and its diesel fuel supply tanks.
“There’s no wood stoves up here,” Ivey said. “If you lose power, the heat’s off. Had we lost the power plant, that’s a major state of emergency.”
Like most Nunavut communities, Kugaaruk’s population is overwhelmingly young. More than one-third of its population â€” 310 students â€” attended the kindergarten to Grade 12 school. There were 45 staff.
The community hall, a church, an Arctic College facility and the hamlet’s offices are being considered as potential classroom space so children can continue their education, Ivey said.
Territorial officials are expected in Kugaaruk on Thursday to assess the damage and figure out what comes next.
The building itself is at least 30 years old, but had been renovated.
The loss of the gymnasium is a heavy blow to the community, said Ivey.
Kugaaruk is the second Nunavut community in recent years to lose its school to a fire.
Cape Dorset lost its school in 2015. Five youths were charged with setting the fire and one pleaded guilty. Work on a new school has not been completed.
Kugaaruk sits on the southeastern shore of Pelly Bay off the Gulf of Boothia. It is about 1,100 kilometres northwest of the territorial capital Iqaluit.
â€” By Bob Weber in Edmonton
The Canadian Press