July 12, 2013 12:46 pm
Updated: July 13, 2013 9:03 am

BC aboriginal community's only grocery store burns down in devastating fire

Firefighters in the remote community of Bella Bella, B.C. work at extinguishing a fire in their local store on July 12, 2013.

Tamara Clark | Heilstuk Nation Member

The small community of Bella Bella, B.C. has been left reeling this morning after a fire destroyed their only grocery store which contained a post office, cafe and liquor store.

The local fire crew and volunteers worked hard at keeping the fire contained which broke out around 4 a.m. this morning, says Bella Bella RCMP Sgt. Glen Caston. Bella Bella is an isolated community on the central coast north of  Queen Charlotte Strait and is home to the Heiltsuk First Nations.

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There were concerns that three large fuel tanks below the Band store, which provides the community with fuel for home heating, boats and cars,  would catch fire and explode. Due to the close proximity to the fuel tanks police evacuated the local hospital and several residences in the area of the potential blast radius early this morning.

“The fire is still smoldering as there could be a false wall inside the building, which is making the fire harder to put out completely,” says Bella Bella Fire Chief Sunny Hunt. The building was a 35-year-old wood structure and although fire crews reacted quickly, the immense fire destroyed the building.

“This devastating fire has destroyed the main grocery store and other businesses which will greatly affect the entire community,” says Cst. Lesley Smith, North District Media Relations Officer. “RCMP along with the local Band Chief and Counsel are working closely together to ensure emergency plans are developed and implemented.”

Hunt says plans have been put in place to get food to the community with a barge set to arrive at Bella Bella on Sunday; which will be bringing two times the amount of food. A temporary store will be set up in the community hall and the community of Shearwater; which is across the sound does have some food to help Bella Bella.

Members of the Provincial Emergency Preparedness Program have been contacted to assist the community during this disaster that will affect the community in many levels. RCMP Forensic Identification services and the Fire Commissioner are currently enroute to the small community and are expected to arrive in Bella Bella on Saturday morning.

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