A fire started in a tent outside the Anita Place Tent City last week. There were no injuries. (Contributed)

UPDATE: Fire chief worried about state of Maple Ridge tent city

Propane tanks pose a threat

Some residents along River Road in Port Haney are looking for their propane barbecue tanks that have gone missing in the past few weeks.

A resident who lives along the road near the West Coast Express station said that about five people in his building have had propane tanks stolen off their balconies and patios in the last few weeks.

Residents in other nearby buildings have also been hit.

The resident, Roger Craik, doubted the tanks are being taken to the nearby Anita Place Tent City because there’s too much official presence there with fire and police making regular appearances at the camp.

But he said the tanks could be used by homeless people trying to keep warm in more secluded spots down by the Fraser River. He’s asking that anyone missing a tank, to call RCMP.

Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner said he does see propane tanks throughout tent city, although he doesn’t know where they came from. Still, there’s only supposed to be two such tanks located in the cooking area of the camp.

“There are propane tanks. There are lots of them. It’s another part of the regulations they’ve ignored,” he said of campers.

Exner fears the propane tanks are being used to run heaters inside tents. But doing that creates an extreme fire hazard and possible aphyxiation from carbon monoxide.

“It could be an ignition source to start a large fire. It could be such a catastrophic fire in there.”

The fire department makes weekly inspections of the camp, with B.C. Housing and camp organizers, Exner said. The department points out safety issues and makes weekly reports, which are posted at the camp. Specific safety steps, such as maintaining clear exits and pathways, ensuring a metre-space between each tent and a ban on hanging items on fences, have been posted at the camp.

One heater was proposed but it said right on the label, don’t use in an enclosed space.

Fire safety was one of the reasons for the city resuming an injunction to clear the camp in November.

The city and lawyers for the camp then agreed to improve fire safety conditions and suspend the injunction.

Improvements are being made, but it’s slow process, Exner said.

New tent pads on plastic pallets will be spaced out so that tents have more space between them.

Exner also said that if a fire started in the camp, “in amongst all those tents piled together, there will be nothing we can to prevent the loss of life, injury and certainly, the loss of property that takes place.”

That’s not uncommon, he added. There have been previous fires in homeless camps and there was one recently in Vancouver, and a recent fatal fire in Chilliwack. A tent caught fire outside the camp in Maple Ridge last week.

But one of the Pivot Legal Society lawyers for the camp, Anna Cooper said the court order issued last November said the ability for campers to comply with regulations depended on the materials they were provided by BC Housing.

Residents have swapped out the hazardous tarps with more fire-resistant tarps provided by BC Housing, she said. Similarly, campers are now on fire-resistant tent pads, now that they have them.

According to the order issued Nov. 27 in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, the camp is supposed to have fire-resistant tents, tarps, cold-weather sleeping bags and clothes, and in-tent heaters – all to be supplied at no cost.

The order says the in-tent heaters will be “subject to the safety approval by the Maple Ridge fire department, (not to be unreasonably withheld).”

But it’s not up to the fire department to say how specifically to organize the camp, he added. And the department doesn’t have the resources to research what kind of heaters are appropriate. “If they bring us a heater and they want us to take a look at it to see if it’s acceptable or not, that’s our role,” Exner said.

Campers are doing their best to stay safe, Cooper said. “They are scared more than anybody about setting their own tents on fire. Those are the only homes that they have,” Cooper said. She added that the issue comes up in every tent city around the province. If electrical heaters are to be used, the city would have to issue an electrical permit.

They’d welcome any safety tips, she added.

There’s nowhere for homeless people to go to get inside during the day, she added.

Chris Bossley, who helps out at the camp, wonders how much communication from the fire department has been given to the residents there.

So far, the camp has yet to see fire-proof tents from B.C. Housing, nor a warming centre nor a washroom building, she added. However, a washroom could be installed this week. That is mentioned in the court order, though no installation deadline is included.

“The folks at the camp are doing the best they can with the supplies provided.”

Ridge Meadows RCMP have yet to comment on the missing propane tanks.

Order Made After Application [Nov. 27] by Phil Melnychuk on Scribd

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