Fire crews respond to encampment blaze in downtown Edmonton

EFRS extinguish a blaze at an encampment fire in downtown Edmonton. Submitted to Global News

Smoke and flames could be seen coming from a fire in the downtown core at a homeless encampment, on Friday morning, across the street from Edmonton police headquarters, near 96 Street and 103A Avenue. EFRS said crews were called to the scene around 11:50 a.m.

EFRS extinguish a blaze at an encampment fire in downtown Edmonton. Global News
EFRS extinguish a blaze at an encampment fire in downtown Edmonton. Global News

The fire was out about 20 minutes later. No injuries were reported. There’s no word on the cause.

Story continues below advertisement

In a year-end interview on Tuesday, Fire Chief Joe Zatylny described the camps as “extremely unsafe” for the people living there as well as for fire crews and neighbours.

Zatylny added there’s an unacceptable number of serious, injury-causing — even fatal — fires in the city’s homeless encampments.

“Encampments are a complex issue and there’s a lot of partners that need to be involved, whether it’s ensuring that people have somewhere to go or somewhere they can receive treatment,” he said. “But they’re unsafe, there’s no question about it. These last two weeks, as the weather starts to get colder, almost every second day, I’m getting the message that someone received serious burns or worse in encampments.”

He said that’s simply unacceptable.

“The resources need to be put in place. They need to be supported. The people need the help they need. We need to take down the encampments, absolutely.”

Story continues below advertisement

He said there are issues with crime and safety, particularly in camps in the river valley or close to buildings.

As of Nov. 30, the fire department has been called to 105 fires in encampments in 2023. There have been 19 injuries related to encampment fires in that time period, Zatylny said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police to dismantle several high-risk homeless encampments'
Edmonton police to dismantle several high-risk homeless encampments

A plan by the Edmonton Police Service to dismantle several encampments in the city’s core was put on hold last week, after an emergency injunction was sought by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights (CJHR) and granted by the courts.

Last Thursday, the EPS sent out an email to social agencies advising them that its encampment response team planned to close and clean up 134 “structures” at eight high-risk encampment sites between Dec. 18 – 22, including those near the Herb Jamieson Centre, Bissell Centre, Hope Mission, 95th Street and 101A Avenue, 94th Street and 106th Avenue, 95th Street and 105A Avenue, Dawson Ravine and Kinnard Ravine.

Story continues below advertisement

After two court sessions and hours of discussions behind closed doors Monday, the emergency injunction was extended until the application for a lawsuit against the city’s encampment response is heard on Jan. 11, 2024.

However, a court decision determined police are allowed to remove the eight high-risk encampments before the holidays, as long as officers follow provisions all three parties — the city, police and the CJHR — agreed upon in court.

Moving forward, the city and officers must make sure there is enough shelter space to accommodate homeless people before taking an encampment down. They also need to notify the encampment residents, as well as social agencies, in advance.

Click to play video: 'More than 400 people experiencing homeless died on Calgary streets in 2023'
More than 400 people experiencing homeless died on Calgary streets in 2023

– with files from Emily Mertz

Sponsored content