It’s been almost eight months since Vancouver’s fire chief ordered a growing encampment on the Downtown Eastside cleared over fire safety hazards.
And while structures are slowly disappearing from East Hastings Street, another major tent fire has displaced residents and damaged businesses.
“It’s a sad situation,” Dan Sundman told Global News Sunday.
Sundman, who is homeless, said he’s starting over again after losing everything Saturday night.
While he was staying at a shelter, fire destroyed two tents in the 400-block of East Hastings Street, including the one storing all his clothing and possessions.
At the time, Sundman was letting a friend sleep in his tent. That man was forced to flee when their neighbour’s unoccupied tent caught fire.
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“A bunch of flames at least 10 feet high, maybe a little bit higher,” the friend, who asked not to be identified, said of the fire.
The friend told Global News he was pulled out safely as the flames spread, and sought refuge at the Powell Street Getaway shelter nearby.
“There [were] two 10-pound propane tanks in the other tent and they both just blew up. That’s pretty scary.”
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Chief Karen Fry confirmed the fire started in a tent with two large propane tanks, and extended to the adjacent tent. Both structures were consumed by flames while a building was also damaged.
Crews have extinguished dozens of tent fires in the Hastings Street encampment since Fry’s July 25 order for the immediate removal of structures due to a catastrophic safety risk.
Fry said the latest incident demonstrates the “ongoing risks to the occupants, buildings and local residents in the Downtown Eastside.”
“It could be worse than what it is right now definitely, without the fire trucks,” area business owner Wayne Yu said.
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Yu was inside his family’s store when he saw the fire erupt and alerted the neighbouring business.
“I heard some explosions, that’s kind of scary,” he recalled Sunday.
The front window of 428 E Hastings St. was shattered and is now boarded up, while the awning was also burnt.
The property owner told Global News the damage is estimated at up to $2,000, and he’ll likely pay for repairs out of pocket so his insurance rates don’t rise.
“I know this looks bad for the tenters, but we’re not all bad people,” Sundman told Global News in an interview Sunday.
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Vancouver Coun. Peter Meiszner said the situation is unsafe for residents, pedestrians and businesses as tents continue to block fire exits – while there are reports of increasing hostility, aggression and violence towards city staff.
While the number of tents along East Hastings Street is shrinking, the ABC Vancouver councillor said the city is working every day to connect people with housing.
“It’s a difficult situation,” Meiszner said Sunday.
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“There are people in the encampment that don’t want to accept that housing or shelter space for various reasons and as well there is limited housing and shelter space.”
Sundman, who lives on disability, said he would accept housing if it was offered to him.
This weekend’s tent fire, he said, cost him his third tent in a matter of weeks. The first one, Sundman said, was removed by city workers and the second collapsed during a recent snowfall.
“It’s been tough, and once you get on the street you get labelled as a street person and people don’t like to rent to you,” he said.
“We’re just normal people trying to get housing. There’s not enough housing for us.”
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