NEWS
04/02/2017 15:34 EDT | Updated 04/03/2018 01:12 EDT

Brochet, Man., loses 'lifeline' after Northern Store burns down

A remote northern Manitoba community has lost its only grocery store to a fire that RCMP are investigating as a potential arson.

The fire at the Northern Store in Brochet, Man., began around 4 a.m. CT Sunday and destroyed the building, which also served as the local post office and the location where members of the Barren Land First Nation picked up their band allowance payments.

"The Northern Store was basically a lifeline to the community," said Jason Johnson, who lives in the area.

RCMP say they are investigating the fire, which they believe is suspicious.

"While a definitive cause has not been determined, it is being investigated as arson at this time," police stated in a news release.

Johnson said the building was coming down by the time he and other residents arrived to see what was happening.

"It was loud and whatnot because there's ammunition and there's also the canned products," he said.

"Everything was exploding like crazy, so we had to stay away … just in case of the possibility of being shot by bullets."

There were no injuries, say police.

Brochet is about 940 kilometres by air northwest of Winnipeg, near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

The remote community is accessible only by air in the summer. An ice road serves the community in the winter.

Johnson said residents of the small community are most concerned about children, elders and residents with diabetes and other health issues.

"We have a couple of local convenience stores that do have some small items, but as for the majority of the groceries, it's all from the Northern Store — milk, bread, Pampers … everything for the children," he said.

"Everybody's somewhat shocked and kind of like unsure what to do."

Johnson said he's looking at driving along the ice road route — which is mostly muskeg at this point — as early as Sunday night to Lynn Lake, the next closest community with a grocery store.

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Another northern community, Shamattawa, lost its Northern Store and the band office to fire in September, prompting local officials there to declare a state of emergency.