Highrise fire victims’ lives still upended

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Former tenants of Hay River’s Mackenzie Place highrise apartment building are speaking out over the lack of support they have received after buildings owner started throwing their remaining belongings with little notice.

“They didn’t give people enough time to get stuff out of their apartments.” said former tenant Lila Landrie. “And now they’re throwing everything out.”

Lila and her wife Gabrielle are just two of the hundreds of people who lost their homes when a March 15 fire in the highrise led to the building being evacuated and condemned.

Gabrielle Landrie is one of hundreds of Hay Riverites who was displaced when a fire destroyed the building earlier this year. She and her wife are shocked at how little support they have received since the fire. Cody Punter/NNSL photo

Lila and Gabrielle said most of their clothing was destroyed by water and smoke due to the fire.

“I gathered our meds, and stuff that we needed for everyday use and went to the elevator and I went outside and watched it,” said Gabrielle. “A lot of the stuff was damaged. I’m just glad the furniture was not ours.”

“People had a lot more stuff than we had,” added Lila.

Building owner Sadteo Inc. posted an announcement to Hay River’s community Facebook page on July 19, stating it was no longer responsible for tenants’ belongings and they would be disposed of immediately.

The notice stated management “afforded several opportunities to come forward to pick up their stuff and that as of July 18, it was no longer responsible for storing any of it.”

Several dumpsters worth of furniture, appliances and other belongings from the apartments have been filled on the property over the past few weeks.

Elliot Merz-Wood, who was a tenant and also one of the volunteer firefighters who battled the blaze, said he didn’t have anything of value left in the building.

However, he did have $4,000 worth of tools go missing from his apartment after the fire. When he talked to other tenants, he found out he wasn’t the only one whose home had been looted.

“Me and a lot of other people realized stuff was missing. The thing that really (angered) me, is I saw a lot of stuff what was stolen.”

Merz-Wood is fortunate he was able to stay with his fiance after the fire. The 19-year-old journeyman apprentice is now building his own tiny home.

The damage to the Mackenzie Place highrise from a March 15 fire on the 11th floor is apparent from the outside of the building.
NNSL file photo

While some of the remaining items are damaged, he said it wasn’t fair to get rid of things when people had nowhere else to store them.

“That’s not right to throw everyone’s stuff out,” he said. “What are some people supposed to do. Some of them are staying on couches.”

The Landries said were lucky that Lila’s sister took them in for a few months. They have now spent their remaining $1,500 in savings to purchase a trailer right across from the Legion.

“There’s a lot of homeless people right now. If you were in the highrise you’re homeless,” added Gabrielle.

While they have a roof over their head, the trailer is in need of a lot of work. The electricity is a fire hazard so it had to be shut off. And it will require a lot more work in order for it to be liveable.

“We own this now, but we also own the debt that comes along with it,” said Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, who has been in a wheelchair since 2018 due to the onset of spinal stenosis, said she has been reaching out to help from the GNWT and the local disabilities council to help build a wheelchair ramp for the trailer. The disabilities council has been helpful she said, but the GNWT has not.

“When I asked them for help to build a wheelchair ramp, they said they didn’t dthat anymore. Our apartment was basically set up for someone in a wheelchair and now I’m having to take what I can,” said Gabrielle.

“I could say a few choice words but it ain’t going to do no good.”

At the moment, they only have a small generator to power a small skillet and a light. They are now rushing to find someone to rewire the trailer before winter comes so they can turn on their furnace.

“We’re not the only ones that are homeless. Come winter-time, if I don’t have the power on, we’ll be back at my sister in laws.”