DTES sidewalk tent city blaze confirms fire chief’s worst fears – BC

It was the Vancouver Fire Chief’s worst fear when she ordered the immediate removal of structures from a growing sidewalk tent city in the Downtown Eastside last month. Early on Saturday, we realized that.

A tent caught fire along the 100 block of East Hastings Street around 6am outside the Brandiz Hotel SRO.

“It’s home to about 180 to 200 people, it’s way too close,” resident Kevin Purdy said. “That’s what the fire chief was saying.”

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On Saturday morning, Purdy, who has done garbage duty for the Brandiz Hotel for the past eight years, was cleaning up the remains of someone’s burnt belongings.

“It was just a loud explosion and then a bunch of smokers and firefighters,” said Justin Chipman, who heard the fire from his bedroom. “That could have blown my homie to the kingdom.”

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Chipman believes a propane tank in the tent may have fueled the explosion he heard.

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No one was injured according to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, which said the cause was being investigated and it was unclear if propane, butane or any other flammable material were involved.

“There was no one in that tent. From what I could tell, it was literally piled high with trash,” Chipman said. “It was a tent filled with rubbish and then left to burn.”

Purdy has lived in the DTES for 20 years, and with low-income tenants already displaced by three major fires in as many months, he and other residents want action to make the area safe for everyone.

“It’s a ticking time bomb here,” Purdy told Global News on Saturday.

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When Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry issued an order on July 25 to immediately remove tents and structures from the East Hastings stretch near main streets, she warned that a potential fire “would be catastrophic, endangering lives and jeopardizing hundreds of units of vital assets. lodging.”

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Two people died when a massive fire engulfed the Winters Hotel in Gastown on April 11 and displaced dozens of SRO residents.

Two months later a man died after a battery overcharge caused an explosion at the Empress Hotel SRO in the 200 block of East Hastings.

On July 6, St. Church and an adjacent two-storey building were destroyed in a fire in the 100 block of East Hastings.

“He has the potential to really spiral out of control if he persists,” Purdy said.

Purdy said safety concerns, including fires and violence, have escalated with the recent growth of the sidewalk tent city.

“An elderly friend of mine was kicked because there was no room to operate his wheelchair,” he told Global News. “A 70-year-old man in a wheelchair doesn’t need to be mugged when he has nowhere to go and is just trying to get by.”

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While Purdy and other DTES residents are doing their best to remove debris and keep the sidewalk clear, he said the lingering issue needs to be addressed.

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“I feel sorry for the campers, but they need to have a better organized place than the sidewalk,” Purdy said.

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