View Royal homeless camp hit by blaze, blasts


View Royal firefighters thought they were heading to a brush fire Thursday morning, but found themselves avoiding exploding propane tanks as they fought a blaze at a homeless camp. 

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Fire Chief Paul Hurst said crews were called about 10:30 a.m. to a fire in the woods behind the Choices transitional shelter near Burnside Road and the Trans-Canada Highway.

“As crews left the station, they reported a significant column of black smoke,” Hurst said.

When they arrived, firefighters found the fire was in a structure that appeared to be made from wooden pallets and other found materials.

No one was inside.

“This was a large, well-established homeless camp with evidence of several people living there,” Hurst said.

The property is owned by the Ministry of Transportation and managed by Mainroad Contracting.

Hurst said there were several 20-pound barbecue propane tanks at the site.

Firefighters had to keep their distance to control the fire because of the explosions.

Things were complicated further by the lack of a nearby fire hydrant. Hurst said the Colwood Fire Department attended with a tanker.

While no one was injured in the fire, Hurst said they received an emergency call to assist a pedestrian lying on the highway about 300 metres away at 10:44 a.m.

Because the View Royal and Colwood fire departments were tied up with the fire, Saanich firefighters responded.

One person was taken to hospital with unknown injuries, Hurst said, and RCMP are investigating whether the incidents are connected.

Hurst said firefighters were done at the site just after noon.

Mainroad will assess the damage.

Grant McKenzie from Our Place Society, which manages the Choices shelter, said he was not aware there was a homeless camp behind the shelter.

“I’ve never seen it,” he said.

Choices was established in 2015 to help house homeless people who were staying at a tent city encampment on the courthouse lawn in Victoria. There are about 50 residents at the shelter, which is set to close at the end of this year.

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