Another fire hit Maple Ridge’s tent city early Friday. (Contributed/Maple Ridge News)

Firefighters battle third fire in two days at B.C. homeless encampment

No details on any injuries, but the blaze appeared large early Friday morning in Maple Ridge

There was another at Anita Place Tent City overnight Friday, the third in two days since the city removed heat sources from it last weekend during court-ordered safety inspections.

The most recent fire happened early Friday, following two previous fires on Wednesday.

The blaze started on the side of the camp near the Haney Bypass and slowed traffic while firefighters fought the blaze. It’s not certain if there were any injuries.

On Wednesday, just after 2 p.m., three or four explosions rocked the camp and a 10-kilogram propane tank was venting and burning gas, according to a City of Maple Ridge news release.

Flames tore into the trees and tent at the main entrance to the camp on 223rd Street was destroyed.

Later Wednesday night, at about 10 p.m. a second fire destroyed a tent at the secondary entrance nearby. A propane cylinder and appliances were found in the remains of that tent, said the city.

The first two fires are still being investigated.

No one was hurt in either of those fires. It is not known about the third fire.

Street entrenched people have been staying at the encampment for roughly a year. In 2016, a tent city was setup just a block away from Anita Place. That encampment led the province and former mayor Nicole Reed to open the contentious RainCity temporary homeless shelter, which closed its doors in 2017.

Camp remains without power for warming tent

There was another at Anita Place Tent City overnight Friday, the third in two days since the city removed heat sources from it last weekend during court-ordered safety inspections.

The most recent fire happened early Friday, following two previous fires on Wednesday.

The blaze started on the side of the camp near the Haney Bypass and slowed traffic while firefighters fought the blaze. It’s not certain if there were any injuries.

The camp has been without power for a week after the city asked for the electricity to be disconnected because the power box had been tampered with and there was a risk of electrocution.

The electricity was powering a warming tent as temperatures remain close to -4 C at night.

The supplier of the large propane tanks that provided heat for the warming tent also removed those because of safety concerns, said the city.

Maple Ridge said in a news release Thursday that it was heading back to B.C. Supreme Court to seek orders to address obstruction of city workers in improving safety at the camp.

On the weekend, police and bylaws set up a barricade around Anita Place Tent City and residents were asked for identification to be put on a list for housing, while the fire department enforced safety regulations imposed by a B.C. Supreme Court order, issued by Justice Christopher Grauer earlier this month.

Residents were asked for identification to be put on a list for housing, while the fire department enforced safety regulations.

In February, Justice Grauer decided to allow solid structures to remain at the camp, but granted the city the authority to address the closeness of tents to the fences and each other, remove accelerant, electrical connections and other materials that pose a fire safety risk on the site.

Officials removed some 100 propane tanks, gas canisters, generators and other potential ignition sources on the weekend.

Investigation of the fires on Wednesday, however, revealed more such materials had been re-introduced to the camp, said the city.

It alleges work to bring the camp into compliance with fire safety standards was impeded and the city will now return to court.

“The work was obstructed by people posing as camp occupants and working to hamper the fire department and bylaws personnel from their work to enforce the court order,” said the city.

“The two fires on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and the evidence that a significant quantity of ignition sources and accelerants have been reintroduced to the site has reinforced a decision by the City of Maple Ridge to return to the B.C. Supreme Court. The city is requesting remedies to address the obstruction of city workers in carrying out the terms of the court order and for mechanisms to ensure the safety of city workers who are conducting work on the site.”

The Pivot Legal Society, which has represented the camp residents in court, is seeking to appear before the Court of Appeal regarding the court-ordered safety enforcement at Anita Place Tent City.

Pivot alleges the city is not collaborating with camp residents and said shutting off heat to the camp warming tent was misconduct by the city, among other “numerous and egregious contraventions” of the court order.

According to the city, propane tanks had been tampered with and the supplier decided to remove them. The electrical panel had also been tampered with and was open to the elements, creating a risk of electrocution.

Rally planned outside homeless camp

Soon after the city’s announcement Thursday, the Alliance Against Displacement, which has been advocating for the camp residents, announced a protest rally on Tuesday, March 5 “to defend Anita Place and call for homes, not prison camps.”

The rally will be at the homeless camp, beginning at 4 p.m.

“Their two-day long raid aimed at seizing about 50 homeless peoples’ means of keeping themselves warm – confiscating any device that casts heat – even as an unseasonable cold snap continued,” said the Alliance.

“You can’t legislate someone to freeze because the threat of arrest will never be as severe or pressing as the immediate pains of the cold.”

The Alliance called for the city and province to provide safe electricity outlets at each tent and structure and safe, radiant or ceramic electric heaters to each person who needs them.

“These resources would cost a fraction of the budget blown on two days of over-the-top police enforcement that achieved nothing, not even by the city and courts’ own measure.”

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