One dead in series of encampment fires over holiday weekend

Click to play video: 'Man killed in Vancouver tent fire'
Man killed in Vancouver tent fire
An unhoused man was killed after his tent burned at an encampment near Canada Place in Vancouver. The Christmas Day tragedy underscores the dangers people face living in tents and also the need for more shelter spaces. Kristen Robinson reports. – Dec 26, 2023

In a somewhat secluded and dark location under the Vancouver Convention Centre, a pot on a makeshift stove, a can of Stagg chili and a lone toothbrush are among the charred remains of a tent fire which claimed a man’s life on Christmas Day.

Firefighters say they responded to an area near Waterfront Road and Canada Place shortly after 9:00 a.m., for a report of a person on fire.

“There was a patient lying on the roadway who was still smoking and still on fire,” said Asst. Chief Keith Stewart with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services. “We used an extinguisher to extinguish that patient and tragically the patient succumbed to his injuries.”

Stewart said the Dec. 25 fire was an accidental tragedy, sparked by cooking materials.

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The fatal blaze was the third reported fire at a tent encampment in Metro Vancouver over an approximately 24-hour period.

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On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, a motorhome erupted in flames at a tent encampment off Grandview Highway just east of Boundary Road on the Burnaby-Vancouver border – in a large fire fueled by multiple propane tanks.

A tent also caught fire on the morning of Dec. 24 at a small encampment near Marine Drive and Knight Street in South Vancouver.

Fortunately, no injuries were reported in either of those fires.

“There’s no fire protection in these tents so when fire does happen it usually spreads rapidly and quickly,” Stewart told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

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Explosive situation at Burnaby homeless camp fire

Lincoln Drummond, who lives in a cargo trailer on the site of the fire near Grandview Highway, says the motorhome resident escaped and is now living in another RV at a different location.

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He added he stays safe by using a generator and electric heat instead of gas power in his tarp-covered home – but is saddened to learn someone died.

“It’s terrible that you have to like live in those conditions these days,” Drummond told Global News. “It’s just so expensive to live, it’s a shame really. Waste of life.”

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ABC City Coun. Peter Meiszner says the Christmas Day death is especially tragic because “there are other options for people.”

As of 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, Meiszner said there were some 200 shelter spaces available in Vancouver, with people able to call 211 to get connected.

“A mat on a floor, I know is not a long-term solution but it’s better than a tent,” Meiszner said. “Clearly there’s more need than spaces so we really need the federal government to be more involved, B.C. provincial government is a great support but we can’t do it on our own.”

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As the housing crisis persists, those without a home will continue to make difficult, often dangerous and sometimes deadly decisions.

At least two people were still camping under the Vancouver Convention Centre near the scene of the fatal tent fire when Global News visited the area Tuesday.

The Vancouver Police Department has not released any information on the identity of the person who died.

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