Vancouver’s fire chief 'extremely frustrated' with daily fires on Downtown Eastside
After a large fire spread from tents to a shuttered theatre on the city’s Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s fire chief told reporters she was “incredibly frustrated” that more isn’t being done to prevent daily fires breaking out in the area.
Karen Fry revealed that since last July when she ordered the clearing of tents and temporary structures that have increasingly taken up sidewalk space and blocked exits from buildings, there’ve been 360 fires outdoors in that area alone: on average, one and a half each day.
“The access to the buildings sometimes get cleared, and the next day you drive down and they're blocked again with new tents,” said Fry, who goes through the area herself nearly every day. “Too many lives are at risk here so we need to continue to remove stuff and to remove the tents and the city needs to do more.”
The Sunday evening fire badly damaged the Imperial Theatre, which has been closed for months. A fire hall is a block away and video of Sunday’s fire shows crews showed up within minutes of the flames breaking out and being witnessed by dozens.
Fire crews removed a hundred-pound propane tank and half a dozen BBQ-sized tanks from the scene, where they also found jerry cans full of gasoline. They say some of the explosions heard on the social media videos may have been from batteries.
Propane tanks have gone from being the occasional eyesore to a major concern for residents in other parts of the city, where encampments of various sizes show signs of fire and the metal tanks can be seen scattered or piled up nearby.
“We have homelessness and those sheltering outdoors across our city,” said Fry, acknowledging it’s a delicate balance to remove shelters people rely on in the name of safety. “It is a crisis, but the risks that we're seeing in the Downtown Eastside – specifically (East) Hastings Street and the area surrounding that – is untenable.”
CTV News tried to get an interview with Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, to ask whether he’s considering a new strategy to house those without any other option or who’d rather live on the street than in dilapidated, vermin-infested social housing in the Downtown Eastside. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/150m-toward-texting-but-no-new-staff-in-b-c-funding-to-911-service-1.6294838
Instead, the a ministry spokesperson emailed a statement from the provincial Fire Commissioner Brian Godlonton, who wrote his office “has been working with fire departments, local governments, and other partners throughout the province to take meaningful action to effect change.”
He did not elaborate on how that was happening, but the ministry pointed to an effort by all levels of government to expand housing supply.
Fry pointed out homeless encampments and fires from heat sources are an issue across North America and acknowledges there are efforts underway to improve the situation, but that “it's not making enough of a difference” and the risk to everyone – campers, nearby residents, first respondres, passersby -- remains high.
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