Crews responded to a fire at Anita Place Tent City in Maple Ridge on Wednesday, just days after heat and electrical sources were removed from the homeless camp on 223rd Street as part of a court order to address safety issues there.
Residents in the area reported hearing “multiple” explosions around 2:20 p.m. Some witnesses said they heard three or four explosions.
Marsha Salonga was across the street by St. Anne’s Clinic at the time and took pictures of the fire, near the entrance to the camp.
Flames shot higher than nearby tents and a tall tree was ignited.
She said the fire department arrived and quickly put the fire out.
“I’m very impressed with first responders,” she added.
Another said: “Flames were just roaring.”
Jaime Chalmers, who lives a block away from the camp, heard the explosions.
“It sounded like someone drove a car through my front room. The whole house shook.”
She ran down to the homeless camp.
“There was a huge plumage of black smoke from tent city,” she added.
“It was like a volcano erupting.”
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RCMP also attended.
“Currently, it is a fire matter,” said RCMP Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk.
It is not known if anyone was injured. No ambulance responded.
Wednesday’s fire is the seventh at the homeless camp since its inception in May 2017, during one of which a woman was seriously injured.
Dwayne Martin, who was arrested on the weekend and charged, was in his shack when he heard the explosions and rushed out to use a fire extinguisher on the fire.
“It was massive. The fire department was there quickly, he added.
“They were really good. They did a fantastic job.”
It’s not certain what exactly caused the blaze or what exploded.
The Maple Ridge fire department was unavailable for comment.
On Sunday, six people were arrested for violation of the City of Maple Ridge’s court injunction order for the homeless camp, including Martin, who had barricaded himself inside his wooden structure.
Police and bylaws set up a barricade around Anita Place Tent City on Saturday 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.
Electricity to the camp and heat to its warming tent were cut off Friday, when it snowed, and remained so on Wednesday, while heat sources were removed.
According to the city, propane tanks had been tampered with and the supplier decided to remove them.
“This represented an extreme fire hazard …”
The electrical panel had also been tampered with and was open to the elements, creating a risk of electrocution, said the city.
Earlier Wednesday, Ivan Drury, with Alliance Against Displacement, said residents were starting to bring back heaters and fuel into the camp.
“Guess what happens when there’s no police?” added Drury, who was also arrested on the weekend and released on bail.
“You’re going to take them away, people bring them back.
“So what’s the point of this? It’s just an exercise in force.”