Vancouver firefighters extinguish blaze at Downtown Eastside tent as tensions persist over eviction order

Firefighters extinguished a fire in an unoccupied tent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Saturday morning.

It comes after a deadline to remove tents and structures along East Hastings Street due to security concerns came and went.

Deputy Fire Chief Brian Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Fire Services said crews found a tent fully engulfed in flames on East Hastings Street on Saturday morning. Crews quickly extinguished the fire, which did not spread to tents or surrounding structures.

The tent was unoccupied at the time, Bertuzzi said, and appeared to be used for storing items.

Bertuzzi said investigators were trying to find out what started the fire, “although there wasn’t much left for them to investigate…because it destroyed all the contents that were inside the attempted”.

Late last month, the Vancouver Fire Department ordered the immediate removal of tents and structures along East Hastings Street. The city said the ordinance highlights the increased fire risk associated with shelters along the road.

There have been several fires in the area in recent weeks, including one which destroyed a community church and another, further east on Hastings Street, which reduced a Value Village store to rubble.

However, the deadline for removing the tents and their occupants has passed, and no firm solution has yet been announced for alternative living conditions for the homeless.

Prior to the commission, the City of Vancouver awarded several community organizations combined contracts worth $50,000 to make the area safe for residents.

Brittany Graham of VANDU, a community organization that is part of “Our Streets,” a block stewardship program contracted by the city to work with residents of the tent city starting July 11, said they were “blindsided” by the announcement and says officials are politicizing the issue of fire safety.

BeeLee Lee, another peer worker in the neighborhood, said he doesn’t know what the city expects of them.

“The system is constantly re-traumatizing people because they have this impending date over their heads that keeps changing and doesn’t come,” Lee said.

In a statement on Friday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he was “working with non-profit housing and social service providers” to find housing for those who are homeless in the neighborhood. He called on higher levels of government to provide more funding.

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