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Man narrowly escapes blaze

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Providence (Jan 10/05) - At 3 a.m. on Jan. 2, the Fort Providence parish house was completely gutted by an early morning blaze.

While the loss of the building was bad, it could have been much worse. The parish caretaker, who has been staying in the building since September, escaped the destruction by breaking a window and climbing to safety.

As of last week the cause of the blaze was still unknown and due to the severe damage, its source may never be determined.

Foul play has been ruled out, according to RCMP Cpl. Rob Harkin. He noted that the investigation is centred around a wood stove that was installed a few weeks ago.

"Whether that actually caused it or not, we don't know," he said.

The caretaker reportedly awoke to the smoky haze and sustained minor cuts to his hand while fleeing the blaze.

Harkin and Const. J.M. Sauve praised the Fort Providence volunteer fire department for its efforts on the -30C night.

Fire chief Andy Sapp said despite the brigade's 11-minute response time, the residence was fully engulfed in flames by the time they arrived with the pumper truck.

"The roof was suspect for collapse so we let it collapse and put it out. It was a total loss," Sapp said, adding that it took approximately an hour and a half to get the flames under control.

The resident, in his 30s, was hired by the church in the autumn and, in exchange for room and board, was performing maintenance work on the residence, said Gilles Paquin, business manager for the Roman Catholic diocese in Yellowknife.

"I was satisfied with having someone fixing it," said Paquin, who added that the building had been uninhabited for close to 10 years prior.

He said he didn't know whether the house was equipped with active smoke detectors or whether any contents of sentimental value were lost in the fire. The most important thing, he said, is that the tenant survived.

Among those responding to the call were firefighters Kelvin McLeod, Malcolm Tosh, Larry Major, Paul Wilson and Jonathan Minoza. Sapp noted that department has 12 members at full strength, but a number of volunteers were away on holidays when the incident occurred.