A fire that started early Sunday morning is leaving more than a heavy cloud of smoke over Labrador West.
The Capt. William Jackman Memorial Hospital in Labrador City — evacuated shortly after firefighters responded to a call at an apartment building under construction next door — will remain closed until the smoke has cleared.
Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford said getting the hospital open again is the biggest priority. The ventilation systems cannot run until the smoke has dissipated, and they will need to run for an extended period before air quality testing can be done.
Patients and staff have been temporarily relocated to the nearby Salvation Army Citadel.
The hospital in Fermont, Que., is on standby to receive Labrador West patients for treatment of non-serious ailments like colds or flu.
Oldford said it could take another day and a half to remove debris from the site.
“That’s another day and a half they won’t be able to turn on their fans,” she said.
“Once that’s done they can figure out what they need to clean, how much they need to clean, and how they’ll get rid of the smoke and soot, and have it ready for occupancy again.
“We’re trying to accelerate it as much as possible, which is why the Iron Ore Co. of Canada (IOC) has come on board as a big help.”
IOC is bringing a helicopter capable of carrying water to the scene to douse the flames, as well as a pump used to tap into lakes to pump more water to the site.
“Their emergency response team has been there from the get-go with all their support, and both mining companies have also freed up any volunteer firefighters to be on the scene to fight the fire” the mayor said. “They’ve all stepped in and done everything possible.”
The municipality worked with the provincial government Sunday night to have an air ambulance stationed on the tarmac in Wabush, and it has already been used to transport a patient out.
“It’s been a joint effort with fabulous co-operation in the town,” Oldford said.
Heather Bruce-Veitch, director of external relations with IOC, agreed.
“It’s been a wonderful collaborative effort with all parties to support the town in handling the situation, which is pretty typical of Labrador West. People come together when they’re needed, and we’ve been pleased to play a small part in that.”
Bruce-Veitch said the burned apartment building is a substantial loss to the town and it will have a significant impact on IOC’s recruitment.
“This building was going to be a key part in how we were going to meet our plan, and we’re now looking at every alternative with what we have available to us. But it’s certainly not going to allow us to meet our needs as expected.”
The 107-unit building was going to house many permanent new hires for IOC, mostly people with families.
“To be out 107 employees, you can feel that for sure, and it will certainly impact productivity. But the good news story is undoubtedly that there was nobody in there,” Bruce-Veitch said.
As of press time, RNC investigators were en route to Labrador City to determine the cause of the fire. Electricity was not running in the building, and the sprinkler system was not yet operational.