City anticipating spike in fire incidents at homeless camps as Discontent City closes

By Spencer Sterritt
October 22, 2018 - 5:56pm

The charred remains of a homeless camp along the Millstone River after an explosion on Sunday, Oct. 21.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

The husk of the camp still smelled of smoke a day later when NanaimoNewsNOW visited on Monday.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

Logs and branches were used to build a fence around the encampment along the Millstone River. It's unclear if the fence was there before those experiencing homelessness took up residence inside.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — With Discontent City closing at the end of November and winter quickly approaching, Nanaimo Fire Rescue is worried about an increase in fire incidents at parks and forests across the region.

“As we speak, the city directors and our fire chief are working on plans right now about what to do when (Discontent City) closes,” fire prevention officer Umesh Lal told NanaimoNewsNOW.

Only tent city residents moving into provincially-funded temporary housing in late November are allowed to stay at Discontent City after Oct. 26 and it's anticipated many who won't move into housing will or already have set up camp in the bushes across Nanaimo.

As the weather turns colder, Lal said there's the potential for many more fires and propane-caused explosions at camps.

One camp along the Millstone River was already devastated by a propane canister exploding, likely when cooking food, on Sunday, Oct. 21.

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Lal said the propane canister exploded which then caused the pressurized food containers to likely also explode. The site still smelled of fire when NanaimoNewsNOW visited Monday afternoon.

“Everyone I talked to heard it from as far as the Nanaimo North Town Centre,” Lal said.

No injuries were reported from the scene of the fire.

“When the initial fire suppression crews got there, they were told there'd been one or two people down there. By the time they arrived, there was no one around (and) we haven't been told somebody ended up going for medical attention.”

Though propane canisters are a safe way to cook food, Lal said they still need to be properly cared for and respected.

“One of the probable main factors is they had their cooking appliance going and then walked away from it. And then if you tamper with the propane cylinders, that could cause potential fire and explosion issues also.”

The ground was relatively damp around the camp, but Lal said it would be a very different situation if the explosion happened in the summer during tinder-dry conditions.

At the peak of the summer heat, from June to the end of September, Lal said there were 35 fire incidents around Nanaimo caused by homelessness, whether it was a fire which got out of control or carelessly discarded cigarettes at camps.


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