After 370 fires in Vancouver’s DTES encampment areas since July, safety concerns remain high

Click to play video: 'Sunday night fire sparks new tent encampment safety concerns'
Sunday night fire sparks new tent encampment safety concerns
WATCH: There are more questions about the safety of Vancouver's tent encampments after a fire on Sunday night spread to a nearby building. Emad Agahi reports. – Mar 20, 2023

Concerns remain high about the safety of tent encampments on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after a fire broke out Sunday night.

But this is just the latest fire in a string of dozens in this area of the city.

Since the City of Vancouver’s fire chief, Karen Fry, issued an order in July that the growing tent city on the 100 block of East Hastings Street be cleared out, she said there have been 370 fires started outdoors in the encampment area.

“Three hundred and seventy, in eight months,” she said.

On Sunday night the fire appeared to have started when a propane tank exploded around 6:45 p.m.

The fire damaged several tents and the front of the now-closed Imperial event space near Main and Hastings.

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No one was injured in the fire and Vancouver Fire and Rescue crews were able to knock the fire down quickly to keep it from spreading.

When the fire was out, firefighters found seven 25-pound propane tanks and one 100-pound tank that had been damaged by the fire.

“It causes great concern,” Fry said. “We removed several propane tanks.”

“Last week we reported on three other tent fires on the DTES that caused damage to a building as well.”

Click to play video: 'Building damaged after fire destroys tents in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside'
Building damaged after fire destroys tents in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Fry said the area is very dangerous for people living on the streets.

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“Propane tanks are one of our biggest concerns, flammable fuel as well,” he said. “I saw a jerry can there that was filled with gasoline, so there’s a multitude of risks. It’s not just the propane tanks, it’s what’s in the structures, it’s the access to the buildings.”

Fry said these tents were blocking entrants and exits to the building so those had to be removed before crews could gain access.

Click to play video: 'Body of woman found inside tent on Hastings Street'
Body of woman found inside tent on Hastings Street

She said all agencies need to come together to solve the problem.

Sgt. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department said city workers have faced hostility from people living in the area and the City of Vancouver told Global News its crews are out on those streets daily to try and encourage the voluntary removal of the structures but the work can be dangerous.

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“Unhoused people and people without housing is a problem throughout our city and throughout our province,” Fry said. “That’s not what I’m trying to solve here. It’s not really about finding homes. We have encampments throughout our city. The one in the DTES on Hastings Street is the biggest concern.”

Fry said it’s not just about the people in tents camping outside but it’s the people living in the buildings and running the risk of becoming trapped in those buildings.

“We’re having the fires,” she said. “It’s not like there’s no more fires.”

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