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Drugs may be to blame for ‘Whalley Strip’ tent fire that hurt two

Homeless people gather on Whalley's so-called "strip," along 135 A Street.
Homeless people gather on Whalley's so-called "strip," along 135 A Street. Global News

Two homeless people living on Surrey’s so-called “Whalley strip” suffered serious burns after a fire inside their tent on Tuesday.

Surrey bylaw enforcement manager Jas Rehal said the two people, a man and woman, both suffered burns and were transported to hospital.

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Griffioen said while the investigation is ongoing, early indications suggest illegal processing of drugs may have been the cause.

“The firefighters and inspectors on scene discovered that, they heard reports that the occupants of the tent had been processing drugs illegally inside their tent using propane and butane. And several cylinders were found on scene.”

READ MORE: Surrey mayor says Whalley strip ‘urgently’ needs supportive housing

Griffioen said one person suffered first-degree burns to the face, the other second and third-degree burns to the arms.

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“We’ve been trying to educate people on the strip since last winter on the dangers of open flame use in tents and fuel use,” said Griffioen.

Surrey’s 135 A Street, better known as “the strip,” is home to a large population of the city’s homeless, and is home to several key social services, including the nearby Surrey Food Bank.

Last week, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner called for provincial funding for 150 units of supportive housing to get people out of tents along the strip.

WATCH: City of Surrey takes on “the strip”

Click to play video: 'City of Surrey takes on “the strip”' City of Surrey takes on “the strip”
City of Surrey takes on “the strip” – Dec 6, 2016

Acting mayor Tom Gill said he’s “beyond frustrated” with what’s happening in the strip.

“Our bylaws department is taking the approach of zero tolerance, and again, that zero tolerance is the result of wanting to ensure we ensure the life safety of the people on that street,” said Gill.

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“That being said I think there are abuses that are happening on that street.”

Gill said what’s needed to get the homeless off the street is housing built with money from the provincial government, and he says 150 units are needed immediately.

READ MORE: City takes steps to address ‘Surrey Strip’ public health and safety concerns

Homeless advocate Erin Schulte said the word of the incident spread quickly among the community.

“I heard they were taking some leaf and trying to make some pot oil out of it. Another person came in and lit a cigarette and ‘boom.’”

Local businesses have also expressed concern about the area, which they say has become unsafe and is driving away clients.

Late last year, Surrey established a new outreach team made up of bylaw and RCMP officers designed to provide a 24/7 presence on the strip and connect homeless people and those battling addiction with social services.

~With files from Emily Lazatin

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