Crews responded to a “major fire” in Victoria’s Burnside neighbourhood Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Armel Castellan)

Crews responded to a “major fire” in Victoria’s Burnside neighbourhood Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Armel Castellan)

Rock Bay Landing encampment fire points to need for shelter for Victoria’s homeless

Attempts to stay warm in tents poses dangerous fire risk

An encampment fire in Rock Bay Landing Wednesday night signals just how important it for people to have access to indoor shelter, says Dan Atkinson, deputy chief for the Victoria Fire Department.

With dropping temperatures and snow on the horizon, Atkinson says attempts at keeping warm pose a massive risk to people living in tents.

“This incident really illustrates why we are strongly discouraging the use of open flame and propane heating inside these structures,” he said. “We know it’s cold, we know times are tough but at the end of the day, it’s not safe to have these types of heaters present out there. We certainly understand the desire to keep warm, we just need to find other solutions.”

At least one person was injured in the tent fire Wednesday night. Around 8:40 p.m. emergency crews responded to a fire in the 500-block of Ellice Street after receiving reports that multiple tents were on fire with people possibly still inside, as well as propane tank explosions.

RELATED: One person treated for burns after Rock Bay Landing fire in Victoria

According to an incident report, the fire had spread to five or six tents and the pallets they were sitting on as the Victoria Fire Department arrived on scene. One man was treated for burns to his hands, arms and head.

The cause of the fire is undetermined.

Atkinson said the encampments are particularly dangerous for fire spread.

“Tents are not designed to be fire resistant or present the spread of fire at all,” he said. “These are extremely dangerous circumstances, not only for the occupants but for the first responders as well.”

Outdoor heaters, when used inside a structure, also pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, Atkinson added.

Before COVID-19, extreme weather shelters were available during inclement weather but that option is no longer available.

Instead, local organizations have opened seasonal shelters over the winter, offering more stability for those who need them. Still – those shelters fill quickly, and can only take half their capacity to allow for safe physical distancing.

“Because of COVID-19 it’s hard to get the appropriate staffing and space,” said Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society. “In Victoria, people don’t tend to get frostbite like they do in the Prairies, but they can still get really cold, and when they have underlying conditions that can exacerbate those.”

McKenzie, speaking to Black Press hours before the Rock Bay Landing fire, noted heating sources as another concern.

“Over the last few years, we have had deaths in the winter from people who are taking heating elements into their tents,” he said. “And it doesn’t take much to knock over a candle or one of those propane burners that you’re not supposed to have in a tent – it’s quite easy to start a fire, but if you’re cold, you’re gonna do whatever it takes. ”

Unable to offer indoor sheltering at its own facility, Our Place Society has been handing out warm blankets, sleeping bags and clothing to help people who are sleeping outside.

RELATED: Fire rips through tents, wooden structures in Beacon Hill Park


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

VictoriaVictoria Fire Department

Just Posted

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

Stephen Nutt, left, and mom Julia Mewhort. (Submitted photo)
Mom worries about treatment delays after son’s drug death in Parksville

Stephen Nutt died from fentanyl laced with methamphetamine and heroin while in supportive housing

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Stock photo
COVID-19 cases reported at Nanaimo’s Mountain View, Aspengrove schools

Public and independent schools report exposures of virus Feb. 16, Feb. 18-19 respectively

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Most Read