Remote First Nation under state of emergency after fire burns down grocery store

Emergency supplies and food are being flown into Brochet, Man., a remote northern community that declared a state of emergency after its only grocery store burned down Sunday.

The Northern Store caught fire at about 4 a.m. CT Sunday. John Clarke, chief of nearby Barren Lands First Nation, declared a state of emergency Monday morning.

"We are thankful no one was hurt in the fire but it is sad to see our community in crisis like this," Clarke said in a statement. "We are working around the clock to address the concerns arising from the situation."

"It is very unfortunate we have lost our store to fire in the community," said Michael Beaulieu, vice president of operations for the central division of The North West Company.

Beaulieu flew to Brochet, about 940 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg yesterday. 

"When I arrived the building was on the ground. The roof was completely lost. Walls collapsed. There was the sound of popping from canned goods being heated and exploding," said Beaulieu. 

Officials with the First Nation, the company and the Red Cross, as well as members of the provincial and federal governments are moving emergency supplies to the community of about 600 people Monday. 

Beaulieu says some shelf staple goods such as flour and sugar are already on the ground at a nearby warehouse that wasn't touched by the fire. A community hall is up and running as a make-shift store. 

"We have freight aircraft on the way and we are moving some people to the community as we speak," said Beaulieu. 

Goods and products may also be moved from Thompson over the next couple of days. The doors of the temporary store will open as early as tomorrow but with limited produce. More will be added throughout the week. 

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), the group that represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said supplies from the Red Cross should be delivered Monday to the community. 

"The fire is another reminder about how vulnerable many of our northern First Nations are and how we need to do more to keep our communities safe," MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson.

"I think all communities have to build better infrastructure and promote self sufficiency and food sovereignty because we can't keep going on lke this," said North Wilson.

"We can't keep immobilizing communities and debilitating them when structures like this go down. It's an example of how the monopolies are working."

In September, the Northern Store and band office in Shammattawa, 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, also burned down. A 12-year-old boy was charged with arson in connection with that fire. 

North Wilson wouldn't comment on the fact the Brochet fire is being investigated as a potential arson. She said until it is known for sure, she can't make a statement. 

Two fires at two Northern stores in eight months has left The North West Company taking another look at fire protection.

"It's unfortunate this happens more often that we would like. We have some experience in getting our operations back off the ground again as a result. It's not ideal for our business, and it's not ideal for our customers," said Beaulieu.

He says as the company moves forward with rebuilding a new store both at Brochet and Shamattawa, fire protection will play a more vital role in design and development.