It was a Remembrance Day to remember this year in Whapmagoostui when the Youth Centre went up in flames. The centre served the community for 10 years. It was where holidays, church services, gatherings, weddings, concerts and other events took place.
“I know for a fact that this building will never be replaced. It is a tragic loss for all,” said Whapmagoostui Chief Stanley George in a message to the community. “Former Chief Matthew Mukash, former Youth Chief of Whapmagoostui Pakesso Mukash and all parties involved in the realization of the Youth Centre – your work will never be forgotten as this was a truly remarkable place.”
But through all that the sadness of this loss there is still a hope for the future. “Within a week in a forest fire, new willows, flowers and trees already start to grow and blossom. This is the vision and optimism we must pursue,” he said.
The building cost $1.7 million to construct in 2002.The insurance assessment of the site ended on November 20 with an estimated $4 million in damage. The site, that was sealed up and untouched until after the investigation, will now see the cleanup work start.
After the fire, everything the youth had in the centre was turned to ashes – the pool tables and the sound equipment that brought so much enjoyment were gone. At the time of the blaze, the Whapmagoostui band office had been temporarily using the building while their offices were being renovated. All of their office equipment went up in flames from furniture and computers to a brand-new server. The fire also cut the lines to the band offices for a short period.
The first alarm went off in the building at 8:30 pm, but when the fire department arrived they didn’t detect any signs of fire or smoke. When the alarm went off for the second time at 11 pm, they discovered smoke on the second floor. By the time backup arrived, the fire had spread throughout the second floor.
“Foul play isn’t suspected,” said interim Fire Chief Josie George who was given a report of a witness seeing a blue-green flash occur by the power lines in the vicinity of the youth centre shortly before the fire.
In fact, Hydro-Québec had tried to service the visible sparks on the transmission lines and had given assurances to the local fire department that everything was okay. The Whapmagoostui maintenance department went to inspect the boiler room at around 9 pm, with everything being reported as normal.
Around 18 firefighters from the twin communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuaraapik battled the blaze as it raged on. After three hours, the fire was deemed uncontainable. The community could only helplessly stand and watch as the flames consumed the centre. Strong winds fanned the flames further increasing the intensity of the blaze.
“The most important thing was that no one got hurt,” said Josie George. “It was important to get the youth away from the building before anything bad happened. Thankfully, none of the firemen were hurt putting out the fire.”
An order had been issued to close the building to the public as soon as the reports of the flash came in and before the fire broke out.
According to a member of the fire crew, they could see that the fire was started between the wall of the mechanical room and the janitor’s room. It is suspected that faulty wiring is to blame, although it won’t be confirmed until after the investigation. The structure of the centre was around 90% wood and as sprinkler systems were not mandatory in 2002, the building had none.
“This is a lesson we will all learn from so that is doesn’t happen again – we need to make our buildings safer,” Stanley George said. “Rest in peace to the great building we once called the Youth Centre. To all the youth, only greater opportunities will arise.”