Business owner who predicted homeless camp fire asks for compensation

Owner of Master Lee's Tae Kwon Do School warned about possibility of fire in adjacent homeless camp months before it happened.

A fire scorched a tree next to Master Lee's Tae Kwon Do school

The owner of a business whose warnings about the fire hazard in a neighbouring property went unheeded is asking for compensation to help pay for damage from a blaze in October.

Seung Yong Lee, who runs Master Lee’s Tae Kwon Do School on Allwood Street, says his business sustained $6,000 in damage after a fire in a homeless camp on the neighbouring site of the former Allwood Estates mobile home park.

Prior to the fire, Lee contacted both the property’s owner, Onni Group, and the City of Abbotsford to warn about the risk of a blaze next door. In August, he showed a reporter from The News a homeless camp abutting a tree which stood just feet from his business. The site, which was vacant but home to multiple homeless encampments, had already seen several fires break out.

“If a fire happens again, it could get to our building,” Lee told The News in August.

Two months later, his prediction came true, and his building sustained water damage during a fire which climbed the tree and shot flames up to 30 feet into the air.

Lee said he has fire insurance, but is reluctant to use it because his premiums would substantially increase.

He said that given the source of the blaze, and the multiple warnings provided before it broke out, the city, the property developer, or both, should cover the costs. Lee has collected more than 230 names on a petition calling for compensations. Signatories include parents of students, along with neighbouring businesses.

Lee said he has worked to keep fees at his school down, but that the cost of dealing with the fire threatens that.

The damage, he said, “is not a big amount to Onni, but it’s a big amount to me.”

While he said he has been told that fees associated with taking the issue to court could be more than the money he’s seeking. Lee has met with Mayor Henry Braun and city manager George Murray both in private and with parents of his students. He said his case boils down to the fact that it’s incumbent upon property owners and the city to respond when warned about fire risks that endanger neighbours.

“They have to get the message,” he said.

Braun, for his part, said the city had met its obligation in trying to get Onni to clean up the site prior to the fire. He said “thousands of dollars” of  fines had been levied.

He said he had encouraged Onni to help Lee, but said that for the city to pay costs associated with a fire would set a bad precedent.

Meanwhile, Lee remains concerned about the property. Onni has been undertaking construction on the site over the last month, and it’s no longer being used by the homeless. But he worries that if work on the property stops, homeless camps may return. He would like to see the neighbouring trees removed to reduce the fire risk.

Braun said Onni has been directed to remove one particular tree close to the city that has been deemed a danger.

Representatives from Onni did not respond to an interview request.

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