News Views: Preventable

Already a fire hazard, Anita Place now plagued by arson

Someone is setting fires at Anita Place Tent City.

Given so, the city’s fire department must be given the authority and access to make the camp fire-safe, regardless of the politics of homelessness in Maple Ridge.

On Sunday evening, a fire at the homeless camp on 223rd Street started with an explosion. The force of the blast knocked over two tents, and burned another, which was unoccupied. It had been used for storage.

Twice last year, gas cans were set against tents and ignited, according to camp residents. Fire Chief Howard Exner has confirmed two previous fires were incendiary, and indicated there is a suspect.

We can’t say at this time these criminal acts were done by members of the community who want the camp cleared, and the public should not jump to that conclusion. There is the possibility the fires originated with a camp resident, or multiple. Ridge Meadows RCMP have confirmed that they have been called to violent incidents, including those involving knives, at the camp in the past.

What we do know is that there have now been five fires at the camp to which the Maple Ridge fire department has responded. They were on scene within five minutes on Sunday, and were fortunately able to quickly control the blaze. Nobody was hurt, this time.

Chief Exner has remained apolitical about the camp, but has loudly sounded the alarm about fire safety. The city and those who speak for the camp – the Alliance Against Displacement – have an obligation to heed his warnings and take real action to protect the camp residents.

There was a cleanup in September, ordered by the Office of the Fire Commissioner. However, wood structures have not been removed, and propane tanks and other ignition sources are still there.

Complicating matters is the approach of January and a long stretch of cold weather. There are temporary solutions offered in the warming tent at Anita Place, the Salvation Army shelter, and the Mat Program, which brings people indoors at local churches. Whatever objections camp residents have to attending these facilities, bringing in gas cans and creating other fire hazards cannot be their alternative.

Playing with fire is a recipe for disaster, one that can be prevented.

– Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadodws News

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