Fire destroys Puvirnituq garage

Community loses up to 11 essential vehicles


MONTREAL — Municipal services in Puvirnituq ground to a halt on Valentine’s Day, after an early morning fire in the community’s municipal garage destroyed or severely damaged 11 essential vehicles.

Three sewage trucks, two dump trucks, two support vehicles, plus a grader, bulldozer, school bus — and the community’s only garbage truck — were in the garage at the time of the fire.

The fire apparently started in one 40-foot by 100-foot bay of the garage at about 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 14. A municipal worker who was beginning his day at 7 a.m. first reported the blaze.

Eight minutes after the alarm, firefighters arrived on the scene. There, they faced a hard-to-control fire, fed by burning tires and fuel. Water hoses were the only tools the firefighters had to douse the fire.

“That’s a heck of a fire to fight with water,” said Craig Lingard, assistant director of civil security in Nunavik.

Local police called mayor Paulusi Novalinga to tell him the garage was on fire. Novalinga rushed to the garage, where he saw thick, black smoke.

“There were also explosions. I told people not to get too close,” Novalinga said.

Wind and very low temperatures complicated the firefighters’ efforts, but they were able to contain the fire and retrieve some equipment. No one was injured.

“The firefighters did an exemplary job,” Novalinga said. “They managed to save one truck.”

By Thursday afternoon, Julien Jacques, a mechanic with the Kativik Regional Government, had arrived from Umiujaq to see if he could salvage the remaining sewage truck. Jacques and local mechanics worked on the truck through the night until 5 a.m. the next day.

Working around the melted tires, blackened, melted interior and soot, they cobbled new and old pieces together. When they got the truck running, they immediately put it back on the road.

“The hospital really needed it, due to the amount of waste water they produce,” Jacques said.

Puvirnituq’s 25-bed Inuulitsivik hospital is the community’s largest water-user. The hospital has two 15,000-gallon reservoirs for fresh and waste water, but still depends on regular service to pick up and deliver water.

Jacques, speaking from the municipal garage on Monday, said he and the other mechanics were hopeful a second sewage truck could be repaired and brought back to service this week.

“I call them magicians, not mechanics,” Lingard said.

The community still hopes to find a third sewage truck — new or used — for the community of 1,400. “It’s absolutely necessary to give us confidence in the service,” Lingard said.

Lingard said Quebec’s department of civil security had been informed about the need to bring in a third sewage truck.

The garage and two adjacent buildings suffered “extensive damage,” Lingard said. According to his best “guesstimate,” equipment losses will total at least $2 million.

Luc Harvey, director of civil security for Nunavik, said the fire in Puvirnituq’s municipal garage is precisely the kind of catastrophic event municipalities and the regional government have been developing emergency plans for. He said the emergency response to the recent fire went as expected.

Mayor Novalinga was also pleased with the way Puvirnituq responded.

“We’re doing the best we can we with limited resources we have,” Novalinga said. “Our people took care of the fire. They did the best with what they had.”

Police do not believe the fire was deliberately set, although the Kativik Regional Police Force, the Surêté du Québec and insurers are continuing their investigation.

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