Fire breaks out in tent at Beacon Hill Park

Firefighters rushed to Beacon Hill Park shortly after 7:30 p.m. Thursday to douse a fire in a tent attached to tarps across from South Park Family School.

No one was injured.

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Victoria Fire Acting Battalion Chief Jim McNeill said someone walking in the park noticed the flames and ran to Fire Hall No. 2 on Michigan Street to report the fire. Three firefighters in a ladder truck were on scene within minutes. They found the tent and debris surrounding it fully engulfed with flames shooting 25 to 30 feet in the air.

McNeill said a fire in Beacon Hill Park is “concerning for sure.” He said it’s lucky it didn’t spread to other tents or to more trees.

A man named Max said he was staying in his girlfriend’s tent when fire broke out in his tent, which is near Douglas and Michigan streets. He told firefighters he left an oil burner on unattended.

Max, whose hands were blackened with ash, said he tried to use a blanket to quell the flames but they ignited a nearby tree and rose at least 10 feet in the air.

Max said he had a large amount of hand sanitizer in the tent which he believes could have fuelled the fire.

An outreach worker brought Max a new tent and blankets.

McNeill confirmed the cause of the fire was accidental.

Victoria Fire Department Chief Paul Bruce said tarps attached to the tent created a lot of smoke in the area. “Our members knocked it down pretty quickly.”

This park and other areas in the city are being used to temporarily house people without homes. Tents are located in various areas within the park.

Bruce said an investigation into the fire will continue on Friday.

Both the tent and tarps are “all highly flammable polyester material. It burns very quickly, very hot, very fast,” Bruce said.

A tree nearby was burned by the fire up to 7.6 metres (25 feet).

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said, “The point that I want to make is that 69 days from now, until March 31, this underscores yet again that the worse place for people to be living in the winter time, in a global pandemic, is outside in a park.

“I think the bottom line for tonight is that our crews acted quickly, there were no injuries and a park is no place for people to be living.”

The city is committed and the province is committed to working hard “to making sure everyone sleeping outside in a park tonight is offered an indoor space 24-7 by the end of March.”

Thursday’s fire highlights that need.

It is going to get colder in coming days. The city is working with the Red Cedar Cafe to get a warming tent set up on the Cook Street side of the park by early next week at the latest.”

Speaking to the impact on vegetation, Helps said, “Thankfully we moved everybody out of the ecologically sensitive areas of the park.”

It is unfortunate about that one tree but had the city not acted with the co-operation of the people living in the park, “it could have been a heck of a lot worse,” she said. Parks staff will be at the site Friday.

“I think the bottom line for tonight is that our crews acted quickly, there were no injuries and a park is no place for people to be living.”

Patrick Wood, a James Bay resident living on a 10th floor in a condominium building, said he spotted the fire before he heard the sirens and that firefighters had the blaze under control in short order.

He estimated that it was about seven minutes or so from the time he first noticed the fire to the firefighters knocking back the flames.

“We’ve been hearing in the neighbourhood even for the last two or three days a lot of bangs. It sounds like bear bangers or fireworks.

“Tonight especially I was hearing them in the park probably from about 5:30 (p.m.) on.”

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