Conditions at Anita Place Tent City have turned muddy and cold. (News files)

Conditions at Anita Place Tent City have turned muddy and cold. (News files)

Fire safety concerns at Anita Place Tent City

Residents sacrificing safety for warmth

The Maple Ridge Fire Department cannot get residents of Anita Place Tent City to comply with its safety rules.

The city has reacted by cutting off talks with BC Housing. The provincial housing agency is meeting with Ivan Drury and other Anita Place representatives in the coming week to discuss a proposal to have modular housing installed in Maple Ridge for the camp residents.

From the electrocution hazard of bare wires to having gas cans at the camp, the Anita Place residents are flouting the rules, according to the fire department.

“The City of Maple Ridge Fire Department has noted that there are a number of safety issues relating to activity at the St. Anne camp,” said a press release issued by the city on Thursday. “BC Housing has been advised of the safety concerns and the City of Maple Ridge is seeking confirmation that these issues are being rectified.

“The City of Maple Ridge is not in a position to have any further discussions with BC Housing until these safety issues are addressed.”

Fire Chief Howard Exner said the fire department and other city officials inspect the camp every week, and each week produces written orders for changes in safety procedures.

“Nothing really changes from week to week,” said Exner. “They were writing up the same things over and over.”

Exner said in August the campers and fire department agreed to a list of guiding principles of what fire safety would look like at the camp.

The campers are using generators that run on gasoline, but one of the rules is that there be no combustible liquids on the site. Propane is supposed to be used only in the cooking area, but is found elsewhere.

The camp residents are stringing extension cords, and splicing into them without even using coverings for the wire connections. The resulting bare wires are both an electrocution and fire ignition hazard, said Exner.

The tents are supposed to be a metre apart, and have a metre of separation from fences and tarps.

A comment last week by a camp spokesperson that they use candles inside their tents for warmth is also a concern for the fire chief.

“I can’t tell you how many house fires are caused by candles,” said Exner.

They also have asked that non-combustible materials be a priority, and the amount of combustible material on the site should be limited.

While firefighters are first took an educational approach, Exner said it must now insist on compliance.

“You can’t forsake fire safety – the results could be catastrophic,” he said.

While the city has put BC Housing on notice, Exner said the campers themselves can start complying be getting rid of their generators and extension cords at the site.

A camp spokesperson said conditions are virtually unchanged at Anita Place, except that with the rain and cold weather, people are struggling to keep warm and dry.

“People are improvising in order to not get hypothermia.”