Fire safety conditions continue to concern fire department. (THE NEWS/files)

‘Odd’ cluster of fires at Maple Ridge camp

But no cause identified for any of six blazes in last 18 months

Saturday’s fire in Anita Place Tent City on Dec. 29 was the sixth within a year and a half, following the fifth that happened just three weeks before, on Dec. 9.

And barring evidence to the contrary, residents of the camp believe the fires were deliberately set, said camp advocate Chris Bossley.

“They have no choice because no one is telling them, to the best of my knowledge, how these things are starting,” Bossley said Monday.

Saturday’s blaze took place at about 6:15 a.m. and saw flames shooting five metres into the air. One woman suffered burns to her hands and feet and smoke inhalation.

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue chief Howard Exner said the fire started in a tent that had wooden supports, but which had lost its top following the Dec. 20 wind storm. He added that it was the wooden part that burnt and that a camp resident had tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher but it just grew too fast.

Bossley though said the lack of information is leading camp residents to make their own conclusions about the causes of previous fires and says the fire department should update campers regularly.

“To me, that is the least they should do. Are they releasing the information to anyone down there?”

She’s wondering why the fire department hasn’t been able to identify the causes of any of the fires.

Exner said that the combustible, fast-burning materials at the site make it difficult to determine the cause of a blaze.

“The only thing I can answer to that regard is, we go where the evidence takes us. There’s been no indication or evidence that has led us in the direction to how the fires actually began.”

Exner said that any time a camp resident raises a concern that a fire has been deliberately set, he or she is referred to police.

But camp residents usually don’t follow up with law enforcement.

“Until somebody wants to stand up and say, ‘I saw a guy dressed in blue jeans with a white-and-blue checkered shirt come in here and start the fire’ … I don’t know,” Exner said.

“In some cases, we don’t have any evidence to support where the fire started. In some cases, we do know where the fire started.”

Regarding the most recent fire, “We don’t have any evidence to support whether the fire’s incendiary in nature or not,” Exner added.

“Right now, all the fires that have taken place there, are termed still under investigation and not determined at this point.”

There’s no evidence suggesting how the fires started, he explained.

Exner does admit, however, it’s strange to have six fires in the camp within a year and a half.

“There’s an odd cluster of fires at that location and you can make all the suppositions you want about why. But without direct evidence about why those fires take place, that’s all it is, is supposition.”

He remains concerned, though, about the fire situation at tent city. During Saturday’s blaze, big tarps were also burned.

“If those had been tents … they too would have burned. And that’s what our concern is. That’s why we have a huge concern about what it is we need to do to make the camp safe.”

Exner said the fire department has told camp residents many times how to improve fire safety.

“They don’t want to do what we’ve been asking them to do, for 18 months. We’ve told them, don’t do stuff — and they do it.”

The City of Maple Ridge is returning to B.C. Supreme Court this month for an order to enforce fire safety regulations at the camp.

The city also wants a court order that will allow it to “better identify” people at the camp, so it knows how many need housing.

Ridge Meadows Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk said police are not investigating any of the six fires as arson.

“We have not received any evidence that there’s criminality involved in those fires,” Gresiuk said.

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