Vancouver’s tent city won’t be dismantled immediately, fire official says

The purpose of the order is to remove structures that pose a fire hazard to buildings and other fire hazards.


An order by the Vancouver fire marshal to remove some 150 tents and canvas structures on Hastings Street by 5 p.m. Thursday is not intended to force the removal of residents from the camp, a Fire Services official said Tuesday. .

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Capt. Matthew Trudeau said the goal is to reduce the amount of hazards and fuels inside the makeshift structures. Hazards include propane tanks inside tents, tents against buildings, and those that block access to fire department water sources.

“We are seeing businesses springing up that are cooking inside tents and right in front of buildings that create high risk,” Trudeau said. The department provided fire extinguishers, trained block wardens and removed 20 propane tanks from the tent city.

“We’re putting the city in place to make sure they get the right resources in there, to identify the risks and start providing solutions to mitigate those risks,” Trudeau said of Fire Chief Karen Fry’s order.

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Tents line the sidewalk on East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Tents line the sidewalk on East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Tuesday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said: “Structure removal had been planned to increase the safety of streets, the passage of sidewalks and driveways, increase access to buildings and reduce fire risks. While Monday’s order will expedite this process, the situation is complex and we will continue to take a thoughtful approach that considers the needs of those sheltering outdoors as we do this work.”

In 2021, the City of Vancouver signed a memorandum as part of efforts to prevent homeless encampments in the city. Under the agreement, the city, province and agencies, including BC Housing, committed to working together to provide adequate housing.

Ryan Maddeaux, a social worker with the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network, said he believed the fire marshal’s order was “cynical and irresponsible” and suggested the city was not complying with the memorandum and that vulnerable people they would be most at risk in the middle of a heat wave.

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Maddeaux said residents had already been working with city officials to comply with fire safety regulations before the order was given.

“It’s a few bad apples that are causing the problems, and for the most part, people are complying with efforts to open spaces and not block sidewalks,” Maddeaux said.

Judy Graves, an advocate for the Downtown Eastside, said she supports the fire marshal’s order.

“If this isn’t done, someone is going to die,” Graves said. “In a tent city in a park, we often have fires and fire hazards in the tents, but it doesn’t have the potential to spread to the buildings.”

Tents line the sidewalks of East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Tents line the sidewalks of East Hastings Street in Vancouver on Tuesday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

There is rarely the same kind of crowding in a park, and when tents block sidewalks, they also block access to building entrances and exits. “If people needed to escape a building, it would be difficult to get out,” Graves said.

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“I have great sympathy for people who live in tents, but I support our fire chief 100%.”

The fire department said the number of fires in the city has more than doubled since 2018, and 860 fires have caused damage in and around the Downtown Eastside so far this year. A three-alarm fire tore through a heritage building at 169 East Hastings prompting the evacuation of 80 residents in an adjacent building, and a fire at 1800 East Hastings destroyed the Value Village building.

Rachel Allen of the United Gospel Mission said there are not enough shelters. “We have been unusually full during June and early July, and we had to turn people away.”

In June, the 92-bed shelter turned away 168 people and 37 in the first two weeks of July. Allen said the Winters Hotel fire, which left two dead, five injured and 70 displaced in April, has increased the number of people without shelter at DTES.

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On Tuesday afternoon, area advocates and residents gathered at Columbia and Hastings streets and put together a list of demands for the city. Your number 1 request: “Reverse the arson order.”

They also called on the city to propose safe, affordable and decent housing and better accountability for living conditions in SROs.

His list of demands ended with: “Tell us where we’re supposed to go!”

With files from Nathan Griffiths

[email protected]

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