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Careless smoking likely cause of summer blazes
NWT fire marshal says neither house fire deemed suspicious

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The NWT fire marshal is pleading with smokers to be careful with their butts after it was determined that the likely cause of two house fires earlier this summer was careless smoking.

NNSL photograph

Careless smoking is believed to be the cause of this June 26 fire on Ward Crescent. No one was hurt but several people were left homeless when flames gutted all three units of the triplex near Walmart. - NNSL file photos

No one was hurt in either fire but the blazes destroyed five residences in total and left several people homeless.

The first fire was on Ward Crescent near Walmart on June 26 and the second was exactly one week later on Norseman Drive in Northland Trailer Park. It appears both fires started outside the homes, according to fire marshal Chucker Dewar.

"The official cause of both fires has been ruled to be undetermined due to a lack of physical evidence," he said. "In other words, the evidence was consumed by fire. But our investigation has revealed that the most probable cause in both circumstances was improperly discarded smoking material. We've ruled out everything else."

The late-morning fire on Ward Crescent gutted a triplex and damaged a fourth housing unit. The blaze on Norseman, which broke out at about 2 p.m., destroyed two individual trailers. A cherished family dog was lost in the fire on Ward Crescent.

Dewar said hot, dry and breezy conditions in the city make circumstances ripe for a carelessly discarded cigarette to spark a fire.

"People have to understand - big fires start small," he said. "We're advising residents to put their cigarette butts in non-combustible containers, separated from other combustibles."

Dewar warned against butting out cigarettes in plant boxes, as soil contains combustible materials and planters can also be combustible. Instead, he suggested a pail of sand makes a good outdoor ashtray as long as it is emptied regularly and is not placed near anything that could catch fire like the side of a building.

At least one bystander at the Ward Crescent fire told Yellowknifer at the time a person was seen throwing a cigarette butt on the front lawn shortly before the fire broke out. Meanwhile, a neighbour in Northland said he saw that fire get going in a pile of litter located between the two trailers.

Both fires drew a large response from the Yellowknife Fire Department with almost 20 firefighters and the aerial/pumper unit in use at both of them. There were fire hydrants close by in both instances.

The dog that perished on Ward Crescent was a two-year-old named Teddy. One of two cats that lived in one of the trailers on Norseman is still missing, but neighbours have told the cat's owner they've spotted it in the trailer park since the fire.

The fires drew large crowds of onlookers, including neighbours whose homes just barely escaped the flames.

Chucker Dewar said investigators from his office have ruled out criminal intent in both fires.

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