Fire crews were called to Vancouver’s Strathcona Park Friday to extinguish what one witness described as a “huge” fire in a long-running homeless encampment.
Witnesses reported hearing several explosions they said sounded like propane tanks exploding.
Vancouver police said no one was hurt in the fire, which is suspected to be an arson. It was the second suspicious fire in the park in as many days, police added.
While crews were responding to the fire, paramedics were called to the other end of the park to treat a person who had been seriously mauled by several dogs.
“It appears the victims were staff near the warming tent,” Sgt. Steve Addison said. “Around this same time, multiple fights with weapons were reported between at least five or six people.”
Police said there had also been two overdoses in the park in the past two days, one of which claimed the life of a 22-year-old woman.
The park has been the site of a contentious homeless camp since June, 2020.
In February, the Vancouver Park Board moved to clear half of the park from campers and begin remediating the site.
“I think when we look back on this we’ll probably see, I’m hoping, a turning point that recognizes that by providing folks with secure, dignified stable housing we’re saving ourselves a lot of money in the long-run,” Vancouver City Councillor and Strathcona resident Pete Fry told Global News.
“Because otherwise the cost, as we see in Oppenheimer Park — half a million dollars in remediation and the park still not — open we’re probably looking at twice that for Strathcona Park.
Provincial officials and BC Housing have set a target of the end of April to find housing for the several hundred people who have been sheltering there.
The encampment has been the site of several deaths and serious assaults over the course of the last year.