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Housing money going up in smoke due to fires

The loss of an Iqaluit ten-plex to fire June 30 suspected by RCMP to have been caused by "a burning cigarette from the garbage within an apartment" further drives home the devastating damage to Nunavummiut when flames consume valuable properties, whether they be dwellings or schools.

Aside from being potentially life-threatening events, such tragedies leave families homeless, in a territory long buried under $1-billion housing crisis, and drives up the cost of insurance for everyone.

Nunastar Properties Inc.'s president and chief operating officer Ed Romanowski, for example, says insurance is impossible to get in some cases, or must be sought from larger international insurance companies because the risk is so high.

"When you hear about fires and things like that here, that has a huge impact on the community. That's (the ten-plex fire) going to cost the whole community in insurance rates. Somehow that has to be stopped,” Romanowski said, adding that more is also spent on security as a result.

School insurance cost the Government of Nunavut $1,519,888 in 2017-2018. Compare that figure to 2013's $305,495. The government's deductible – the amount the GN must pay on a claim – doubled to $20 million per school. Kugaaruk lost its school to arson in 2017, while Cape Dorset's Peter Pitseolak School was razed in an act of arson in 2015.

But fires can also be accidental, as was the case with the Iqaluit ten-plex.

The Department of Education has curriculum to teach students about fire safety, how to detect the scent of fire and how to exit a building, for example. By Grade 5, students learn about common causes of fires around the house and to identify fire prevention strategies. The department also partners with the Office of the Fire Marshal on a Fire Prevention Week colouring contest each October.

As for homes, the Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) the territory's largest landlord with almost 7,000 public and staff units has incurred annual losses to fire ranging from $2.1 million in 2018-2019 to $4.7 million in 2017. From 2011 to the present, the estimated cost of all damages related to fires in NHC units is $23,724,792.

The housing corporation puts out newspaper ads to remind tenants about fire safety, and publishes an annual calendar that includes fire prevention tips, president Terry Audla has told Nunavut News.

There were four fires in the capital from the evening of June 29 to the evening of July 1.

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern urged Iqalummiut to report any suspicious activity to RCMP, and to be fire safe.

“We ask our residents to be careful with anything that is fire related, such as cigarettes or barbecues,” she said.

We echo those wise words.

The millions upon millions allocated to mitigate the damage would be much better spent on building rather than rebuilding.