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Tent destroyed by fire at controversial Saanich homeless encampment

Camp advocates say residents used donated fire extinguishers to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading. Marilou Gagnon

Firefighters were called to a homeless camp in Saanich on Sunday, where a tent went up in flames.

Saanich Fire said it was called to reports of a “structure fire and possible explosion” in Regina Park early Sunday afternoon.

Crews arrived to find a smouldering tent, Saanich Fire said, and no one with injuries.

“We’re just happy it happened during the day, while everyone was awake and no one was in the tent itself,” said assistant deputy fire Chief Brock Henson.

Henson said the cause of the fire is now under investigation, but that the tent’s owner said he may have left a lit cigarette inside.

He said the tent and its contents were completely destroyed.

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Victoria-area nurse Marilou Gagnon, who described herself as a camp organizer, said campers put the fire out themselves with donated fire extinguishers.

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READ MORE: Safety concerns raised about Saanich tent city

Gagnon said campers have repeatedly asked the city and fire department for fire extinguishers and training in the past, but have been denied.

“The take away: camp residents are capable of responding to a fire and have done everything they can,” she tweeted.

Henson disagreed with that characterization.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re unwilling to provide training with people on how to use a fire extinguisher, but the fire department itself we do not provide fire extinguishers to the public,” he said.

“We work with the campers on a constant basis. We’re in the park every 48 hours conducting inspections, there’s a fire order that has been issued, we’re very focused on preventing fires in the park.”

The camp, known as Camp Namegans, has been a flashpoint in the city for about four months.

READ MORE: Saanich tent city resident arrested for allegedly blasting air horn in firefighter’s ear

The province and the District of Saanich are pursuing an injunction through the BC Supreme Court to force an estimated 100 campers out of the park.

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Both the province and Saanich have expressed safety concerns, specifically with regards to fire. Residents say the camp provides safety and security for the homeless.

Back in July, a woman was arrested at the camp for allegedly blowing an air horn in a police officer’s ear, after police and firefighters came to the camp to “help those encamped at the park achieve voluntary compliance” with fire regulations, according to a Saanich police media release.

— With files from Kylie Stanton

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