Fires end old year, start new one

Fires end old year, start new one
The Tourist Information Centre in Conibear Park in Fort Smith burned up completely on New Year’s Day.Photo: Laurie Young.

A series of fires beginning before Christmas has seen one fatality and major structural damage to communities across the Northwest Territories.

Most recently, a fire completely consumed the old Tourist Information Centre in Fort Smith’s Conibear Park during the evening of New Year’s Day. The building, which was closed for the winter, suffered extensive damage but no injuries were associated with the fire.

Territorial fire marshal Stephen Moss said the fire was “suspicious” and still under investigation, but could not say at this point whether the fire was accidental or not.

“Arson’s a pretty strong word,” he told The Journal. “It wasn’t in use at the time so a fire should be less likely to occur, but as of yet we don’t have an explanation for the fire.”

Moss continues soliciting reports from the Volunteer Fire Department and witness statements, as well as electrical information. He said a report will hopefully be released in the next few weeks.

While the building had been listed on the Town of Fort Smith’s insurance policy in the past, the previous SAO had it removed. No reason was given.

Another fire in Yellowknife at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre put the museum’s extensive archives in jeopardy on Boxing Day, but due to early detection and containment of what was determined to be a chimney fire near the Museum Café kitchen, none of the collections, artifacts, exhibits and climate-controlled environments were damaged.

“We are very lucky that the fire was contained so quickly,” said Barb Cameron, director of PWNHC. “The response time from the fire department, the diligence of the fire recovery teams, and all of the people working to help us have all made a very difficult situation much easier.”

The building reopened last Thursday. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, a fatal house fire in Behchoko claimed the life of Leonard Washie, 34, on the morning of December 23. The Behchoko Volunteer Fire Department was able to extinguish the fire. The fire marshal, RCMP and coroner’s office continue to investigate the cause of the fire.

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