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Grocery retailers were moving Thursday to ensure critical supplies remained available in Nunavut’s capital after a fire destroyed significant parts of Iqaluit’s largest retail store.

Another outlet stepped up to say it would accept a freighter-load of supplies originally intended for Northmart, where the fire broke out late Wednesday.

“We have committed to the full freighter of inventory that was already in transit,” said Duane Wilson of Arctic Co-operatives, which owns Iqaluit’s other grocery store. “That’s probably (already) on the ground.

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“There’s going to be inventory in the community. There’s no immediate cause for panic.”

Wilson added that Arctic Co-operatives will also increase its regular Friday air freight shipments to Iqaluit.

The Northmart store offered everything from clothes to furniture to snowmobiles, as well as places to eat or sit for a coffee.

“It’s the hub of the community,” said resident Mike Hadfield.

“You go every day. There’s always something that you need.”

When he heard about the fire, he headed to the Arctic Co-operatives store to stock up.

“I went down there to make sure I got my milk and bread and cream and eggs, perishables to last me a week. Within 10 minutes of me leaving the store, I drove by again and you couldn’t find a parking spot within three blocks.

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“Their shelves will be empty by the end of the day.”

Mayor Madeleine Redfern said the blaze started at the back of the building and had already destroyed the warehouse and several other facilities.

“From what I’m seeing of the residents’ reactions, everyone is in shock and disbelief ... very concerned,” she said. “We initially hoped the fire could be put out very quickly. Everyone is just waiting to see what the final outcome will be.”

Redfern said a number of people work at the store, so “it’s a significant employer and a provider of products.”

A nearby elders care home was evacuated as a precaution and Iqaluit residents were being asked to conserve water so that emergency crews would have an adequate supply for firefighting efforts.

A school across from the store was closed for the morning.

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Most perishable food is flown year-round into the city of 7,700, while non-perishable food items and hard goods come in by sea.

“The issue is ensuring that the other retailers are able to bring in enough supplies on an ongoing basis,” Redfern said. “In these situations, it’s important that we work together for the common good.”

By late morning, most of the flames had been extinguished, although black smoke continued to billow, Hadfield said. Onlookers crowded the street.

“There’s a lot of people gathered.”

A spokeswoman for the government said the territory was looking into whether it has a role in keeping Iqaluit fed.

“The (territory) is working closely with the city of Iqaluit to provide any and all support. Cold and heated storage (is) available for food storage if and when needed,” said Nasra Esak of Community and Government Services.

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The Health Department was working to ensure people get their medications.

The RCMP were investigating the cause of the fire.

— By Ken Trimble and Bob Weber in Edmonton

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