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Fire damages Iqaluit grocery store

Grocery says the impact on food supply will need to be assessed

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul ChiassonTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Concerns were being raised Thursday about crucial supplies after a fire destroyed significant parts of the largest retail store in the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit.

“You go every day. There’s always something that you need,” said resident Mike Hadfield.  “It’s the hub of the community.”

The fire broke out late Wednesday at the Northmart store, which is the main grocery and general retailer in the community. The building also houses a number of shops as well as a Tim Hortons.

Mayor Madeleine Redfern said the blaze started at the back of the building and had already destroyed the warehouse, a furniture store and a snowmobile shop.

“From what I’m seeing of the residents’ reactions, everyone is in shock and disbelief … very concerned,” she said. “We initially hoped the fire could be put out very quickly. Everyone is just waiting to see what the final outcome will be.”

Iqaluit residents were being asked to conserve water so that emergency crews would have an adequate supply for firefighting efforts.

“[Northmart] is our largest general store. Quite a number of people work there, so it’s a significant employer and a provider of products,” said Redfern.

Most perishable food is flown year-round into the city of 7,700, while non-perishable food items and hard goods come in by sea.

Other grocery retailers in Iqaluit have indicated they would be able to provide the community with enough food for now, but Redfern noted that the long-term effects of the fire would have to be assessed.

“The issue is ensuring that the other retailers are able to bring in enough supplies on an ongoing basis,” she said. “In these situations, it’s important that we work together for the common good.”

Hadfield said the first thing he did when he heard about the Northmart fire was to go to Iqaluit’s other grocery retailer and stock up.

“When I woke up and saw this, first thing I went down there to make sure I got my milk and bread and cream and eggs, perishables to last me a week. Within 10 minutes of me leaving the store, I drove by again and you couldn’t find a parking spot within three blocks.

“Their shelves will be empty by the end of the day. Hopefully they can keep up with the demand.”

By late morning, most of the flames had been extinguished, although black smoke continued to billow, Hadfield said. Onlookers crowded the street.

A spokeswoman for the government said the territory was looking into whether it has a role in keeping Iqaluit fed.

The RCMP were investigating the cause of the fire.

Winnipeg-based multinational grocery and retailer North West Co. operates seven Northmart stores. The company’s website says the businesses are targeted at larger northern markets, with an emphasis on an expanded selection of fresh foods, fashion, health products and services.

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