A fire overnight on Monday has left the water treatment facility on the Piapot First Nation in a smouldering ruin and the community with no access to drinking water.
Ira Lavallee is an elected councillor for Piapot First Nation and spoke with 980 CJME Tuesday morning. He said they do not know what caused the fire but it started inside the facility late Monday night. The embers then sparked a grass fire which was controlled but still burning as of Tuesday morning.
Piapot FN has no fire dept. Councilor Ira Lavallee says wind was in their favour. The fire was brought under control but got this close to the school. pic.twitter.com/uHPCd9iC5y
— Andrew Shepherd (@Andrew5hepherd) October 30, 2018
Lavallee explained the building was closed for the night but the operator was first alerted by an alarm at 11:30 p.m. and went to check it out.
“The building was filled with smoke and the fire inside the building was already too far gone for her or anyone to do anything about it,” he said.
Piapot does not have its own fire department but generally depends on help from surrounding communities and rural municipalities.
“Calls were made last night but for whatever reason, we couldn’t get a response from any fire agencies,” Lavallee said, noting RCMP officers did come out to monitor the situation.
Instead, community members responded to try to control the blaze as well as they could. The sparks did cause a grass fire but it was brought under control.
“The fire is still smouldering so the RCMP has taped it off for now. They have to wait for the building to cool and extinguish it before they can call in a fire investigator,” Lavallee said.
The bigger challenge the community now faces is how to get access to water.
“Our entire community depends on that water plant, so we’re in a real tough spot,” he said, noting all of the main buildings including the school were connected to it. Classes at Payepot School were cancelled for the day as a result of the fire.
He said there are about 230 homes on Piapot, 17 of which were directly hooked into the water treatment facility. The rest had water delivered by truck from the facility into a cistern.
Despite the destruction of their water plant, Lavalle said community members are coming together and pitching in to help out.
“For now we’re trying our best to maintain and manage, there’s a positive mood in the community and we have lots of people stepping up to help out. We need to deliver potable water to the homes that need it and we have a lot of community members to help us do that. For now, we are constructing alternative plans to have water delivered to homes.”
Lavallee said the band council and chief have been meeting with representatives from Indigenous Services and provincial officials with emergency management and fire safety to develop a plan.
Check back for updates on this story.