Suspicious fire destroys only school in Kugaaruk community of Nunavut

The stone entrance still stands amid the ruins of Kugaaruk’s school. Photo from CBC via Liederick Ammaq Illuitok.

A late-night fire in a remote Nunavut community has left nearly 300 students without a way to attend school for the foreseeable future.

The fire, which was difficult to fight because of -60 C temperatures and frozen water lines, completely destroyed the school in Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, which began late Tuesday night and was not fully extinguished until Wednesday morning.

Kugaardjuq School had 295 students enrolled in kindergarten to grade 12 and 45 employees. Maria Mendillo, the communications manager for Nunavut’s education department, told Yahoo Canada News that classes for students are currently on hold. In the meantime, officials are working with the hamlet of Kugaaruk and the education department to make alternative arrangements.

Located in central coastal Nunavut, sending all the students to another school isn’t logistically possible for the fly-in community of Kugaaruk, which has a mostly-Inuit population. There are about 185 kilometres between Kugaaruk and the community of Taloyoak, but no roads run between the two towns.

Despite the community’s remote location, Kugaaruk is growing quickly. The town’s population was 933, according to last year’s census, which is 21 per cent higher compared to the 2011 census. Nearly a third of those people were students at Kugaardjuq School.

In addition to serving primary and secondary education in the community, the school was the current host site of the Nunavut Teachers Education Program. According to CBC News, it also served as an emergency shelter for the community in case of power outages and provided both a breakfast and soup lunch program.

CBC reported that in the territorial legislature on Wednesday, Nunavut’s Education Minister Paul Quassa said his staff were working to find alternative educational spaces for the displaced students.

“At this point it is too early to determine what will be done to continue the delivery of the education program in Kugaaruk,” Mendillo told Yahoo Canada News.

According to Mendillo, the education ministry will work to determine if other buildings in the community are suitable for classroom instruction. Once a temporary space has been sourced, officials will focus on finding modular spaces that can be used during the design and construction of a new school.

According to CBC News, Nunavut Minister of Finance Keith Peterson said early estimates put Kugaardjuq School’s value at between $25 million and $30 million.

“Due to the size of the community, this will likely be particularly challenging and will require the assistance of the hamlet and potentially other organizations in the community,” Mendillo said of finding temporary space in Kugaaruk.

RCMP have deemed the fire suspicious and are investigating along with the territorial fire marshall’s office and the local fire department, the Toronto Star reports.