Candles used for warmth cited as cause in Kelowna shed fire

Click to play video: 'Woman suffers second degree burns to her hand while using candles to keep warm in shed structure in Kelowna'
Woman suffers second degree burns to her hand while using candles to keep warm in shed structure in Kelowna
Just two days after a large tent fire near downtown Kelowna, another blaze erupted in the city early Thursday morning. This one also being attributed to people attempting to keep warm during cold temperatures. Thursday's fire resulted in some second-degree burns and the fear is, it's just a matter of time before someone gets even more hurt or worse, killed. Klaudia Van Emmerik reports. – Dec 14, 2022

It was Wednesday morning when a fire broke out in a very visible spot near Highway 97 in Kelowna.

Heavy flames and a column of black smoke filled the air near Mills Road.

Ryan Roth was already working at the nearby Lordco Auto Parts when a customer came in and alerted him to the fire outside.

“It was a pretty intense little fire,” he said. “It was going pretty good for a little building.”

The call to the Kelowna Fire Department (KFD) came in as a fence fire. However, upon arrival, crews determined it was a lot more than that.

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“Whatever was there was completely destroyed, but it appears to be a shed,” said Mike Walworth, an assistant fire chief with the fire department.

The remnants of a shed that was destroyed by fire in Kelowna on Dec. 14, 2022. Global News

The structure was at the back of a multi-unit complex, and it appears that it was being used as a winter shelter.

“There was no one around except the renter of the house,” Walroth told Global News. “She claims that it has been frequented by people experiencing homelessness in the past.”

Walroth said shortly after knocking down the fire, the same crew was dispatched to a nearby location for a medical call.

That medical call turned out to be for a woman who had been inside the shed when the fire broke out.

Click to play video: 'Another tent fire highlights need for winter shelter'
Another tent fire highlights need for winter shelter

“She had made her way to her friend’s house and the friend called 911, said Walroth, noting the woman suffered second-degree burns to her hand while trying to keep warm.

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“She said they were burning candles, and either one burnt down and caught something or she rolled over or the candle fell over and caught the shed on fire,” he said.

With more people sheltering outside, these kinds of fire calls have been frequent this year.

On Monday afternoon, a large tent fire erupted at a homeless camp near the Okanagan Rail Trail in downtown Kelowna. No one was inside the tent at the time.

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna man injured after being scooped up by garbage truck'
West Kelowna man injured after being scooped up by garbage truck

The fires don’t come as a surprise to service providers, who are urging the government for more permanent shelter solutions.

“People need to stay warm and people are desperate, so they’re going to start fires. They’re going to use whatever they can to stay warm in the middle of the night.” said Carmen Rempel, executive director of the Gospel Mission shelter.

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“We can expect these sorts of things, these fires to continue.”

Rempel said this will continue until winter is over or year-round, purpose-built housing is created.

“We haven’t been able to keep pace with the demand when it comes to housing people,” Rempel said.

“So we’ve been able to house a lot of people as a city over the past four years, but we continue to have people who are entering homelessness for a variety of different reasons, and we haven’t been able to keep up with new housing options.”

Click to play video: 'Kelowna man collects donations to help feed and clothe homeless'
Kelowna man collects donations to help feed and clothe homeless

The Gospel Mission is one of seven service providers in the Southern Interior that recently penned a strongly worded letter to different levels of government, including Interior Health, to come up with more long-term and sustainable solutions to meet the complex needs of people on the streets.

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“We need a diversity of sheltering and housing options for people,” Rempel said.

“People who are on the streets right now, many of them have such complex needs and such intense behaviours that even if we had the shelter space available, many of them wouldn’t thrive in a shelter environment.”

More than 100 people are sheltering outside in Kelowna alone, largely due to the fact that no emergency winter shelter has yet opened.

Sources have told Global News that a site has been identified, but neither the City of Kelowna nor BC Housing has confirmed it.

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