The Anita Place Tent City had a close call Wednesday night when a tent caught fire outside the encampment.
Chris Bossley, who helps out at the camp, said that Maple Ridge firefighters were called to the tent city at about 9:30 p.m.
“I was told that someone intentionally set the tent on fire. It was not an accident,” Bossley said.
She was also told that there were no injuries.
The fire didn’t happen inside the tent city on St. Anne Avenue, but outside the fences.
Fire chief Howard Exner said the call came in at 8:45 p.m. and said there are no injuries. But it’s not sure what started the fire. “We’re still looking as to what’s going on with that one.”
Exner said it’s fortunate the fire didn’t start within the camp.
The fire department is down there weekly doing inspections and noting that tents do not have a metre space between each other or the perimeter fence.
Improvements are being made but it’s slow in coming, he added. New tent pads on plastic pallets will be spaced out so that tents have more space between them. “As it is right now, it’s a slow, long process,” Exner said.
Fire safety concerns was one of the reasons for the city resuming an injunction to clear the camp in November.
The city and lawyers for the camp then agreed to improve fire safety conditions and suspend the injunction.
“They are, it’s just that it’s being done very slowly. We would like to see it accelerated, let’s put it that way.”
Exner said that once a fire starts in the camp, “in amongst all those tents piled together, there will be nothing we can to prevent the loss of life, injury and certainly the loss of property that takes place.”
He added it’s not that uncommon. There have been previous fires in homeless camps and there was one recently in Vancouver, and a recent fatal fire in Chilliwack.
The heavy tarps could also fall on to tents trapping people inside.
“So it does happen. And all the best intentions in the world won’t prevent it from happening, unless people start following what we’re looking for in the fire-safety regulations.”
As the temperatures get colder, the danger grows as people start thinking about bringing heaters inside tents. But the tents are not rated for heaters, and both gas and electrical heaters are dangerous to bring into a tent, and none of them should be used inside, either because of the fire risk or carbon monoxide risk, Exner said.
Dave Cudmore, who lives at the camp, was in his tent when he heard a commotion outside. The fire was out however by the time he got there.
But all he heard was people yelling at the homeless and telling them to get out of town, stuff they hear all the time, he added.
Listen Chen, with the Alliance Against Displacement, blamed city council for normalizing hate against the homeless and not taking “a firm anti-hate stance on behalf of the people at Anita Place.”
She said the lack of an explicit statement from the city opposing hate is a “glaring oversight” by council which has “subtlely and implicitly” normalized the blaming of homeless people.
B.C. Housing is currently looking for a location in Maple Ridge for a temporary shelter.