A teepee located in a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue burned down early on Wednesday, leaving one man with minor injuries.
Just before 2 a.m., Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service responded to a reported fire at the camp.
Assistant fire chief Craig Bird said it isn’t known how the blaze, located in a “main common area” started, but there were “quite a few propane bottles and barbecues … inside the teepee itself.”
He said that with low temperatures, many homeless people are trying to keep warm and are using external sources of heat, adding that it is a very dangerous situation.
Mayor Henry Braun arrived at the site in the morning. He said it was lucky there were only two people there when the fire occurred and was thankful injuries were minor.
After looking at the site, he said the area around the teepee needed to be cleaned due to hazards such as needles. The rest of the camp will remain in place.
The teepee and tents went up at the Gladys Avenue site in late December 2013, after the city was granted a court injunction to remove a homeless protest camp in Jubilee Park.
The Gladys camp has remained in place in defiance
of an eviction notice since January 2014.
The city is currently involved in court action regarding its bylaws against camping in parks. The BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors, an advocacy group, and non-profit group Pivot Legal Society have argued the bylaws are unconstitutional and criminalize the homeless. The issue will go to trial in June 2015.
Braun said he had feared such an incident would occur at the site and continues to be concerned another blaze could occur, but the issue is complicated by the ongoing legal action. He said he has engaged with other parties involved in the lawsuit, and they are trying to find common ground and ways to address ongoing issues without “stepping into a legal minefield.”
“This can’t go on forever and it won’t go on forever,” he said, adding that other parties need to come to the table.
He said the current situation is difficult for the city.
“We’re in a position where if we don’t do anything, we are criticized. If we do something, even if we do it very carefully … people will criticize that too.”
The protesters are “our citizens, they are a part of Abbotsford, so we have an obligation,” he said, but added that he also has a duty to the rest of the city.
“There is a tension between those two dyna
mics and I am mindful of both.”
He said he has been trying for months to help the protesters to find a safe place, but it hasn’t occurred yet. He noted that as there were few people in the camp last night, it seems people are seeking shelter.
“I think the fact that there were only two people here tells me that people are finding shelter somewhere.”
While the lawsuit is ongoing, he said he won’t just “sit on his hands,” though he cannot discuss specifics.