Residents of Anita Place Tent City fear a fire at the camp Sunday evening was deliberately set.
Around 7 p.m., camp residents heard a “bang,” then the sound of a vehicle speeding off.
Dwayne, a camp organizer, heard the commotion, grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to help put the fire out.
But it grew too fast, he said.
“I was trying to make sure nobody was in there.”
The fire department arrived quickly, he added, and put out the fire.
It destroyed an unoccupied tent, and the blast knocked over two others.
The fire occurred near 223rd Street, said Dwayne, who lives in a shack he constructed at tent city.
“It was right on the fence line,” he said.
“It’s been done before.”
The Maple Ridge fire department is still investigating Sunday’s fire.
“Last night was less than an ideal time to do a fire-cause investigation,” Fire Chief Howard Exner said Monday, as it was dark and rainy the night before.
He did, however, confirm, that firefighters found debris in the tent that was consistent with “some bangs of some sort.”
While he couldn’t elaborate on what the debris was, he said it’s not unlike materials likely associated with most all of the tents at the camp. He also said the tent appeared to have been used for storage.
Exner added that firefighters responded within five minutes of the 911 call and controlled the fire with one hose, initially from outside the blue fence that surrounds the camp.
They then moved in to ensure it was out.
The fire chief said it was the fifth fire at the camp the department has responded to, and that two of them were “incendiary.
“We believe we know who started them,” Exner said, although the department has not been able to prove that.
Of the four previous fires, Exner added nothing indicated they were started outside the camp. He asks anyone with information, or video, regarding the latest fire, to contact the fire department.
Ridge Meadows RCMP will become involved in the fire department’s investigation if it is found that anything criminal took place, said Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk.
Regarding the previous fires, Dwayne said twice that gas cans were set up against tents and ignited.
Fire destroyed a tent just after Christmas last year.
The fire department has conducted numerous safety inspections at the camp and has long sought to improve safety there, such as having gas cans removed.
The fire department even considered seeking a compliance order from the B.C. Supreme Court.
Dwayne is concerned for the safety of camp residents, not just because of the fire, but also the cold.
“This is a hard time of year,” he said.
Camp residents, estimated to between 40 and 80, have no heat sources, he added. They are not allowed to have open flames, or use generators or car batteries.
Without heat, though, Dwayne said, they will die.
“We’ll freeze to death.”
Fearing that, he added, camp residents will do what they have to do to survive.
A warming tent was added to the camp last December, followed by washrooms and a shower. But Dwayne said campers still need to be warm when they sleep.
“Tell us what we can use,” he said. “People are going to die because of stupid choices. But it’s survival. You have to do things to keep warm. We don’t have a lot of money, we don’t have a lot of options.”