British Columbia

'Awful cold': Homeless Chilliwack woman badly burned in fire was trying to keep warm with candles

'The situation is getting dire here in Chilliwack'

Michelle Ghoussoub - CBC News

November 09, 2017

When fire crews were called to the 9300 block of Williams Street in the early hours of Wednesday, the department said it found a woman's personal belongings in flames against a building. (CBC)

The friend of a Chilliwack woman who was badly burned after her tent caught fire early on Wednesday morning said that she was trying to escape a bitterly cold night.

"She only had a very small tent — she had lit two candles inside the tent to stay warm," said Tom Spooner.

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"I told her it was going to be awful cold. I said get under some more blankets. She was dozing on and off, I told her to blow out the candles," he said.

When fire crews were called to the 9300 block of Williams Street in the early hours of Wednesday, they found a woman's personal belongings in flames.

The woman sustained severe burns and was airlifted to hospital.

'I told her it was going to be awful cold. I said get under some more blankets. She was dozing on and off, I told her to blow out the candles,' said Tom Spooner. (CBC)

Spooner said he found out about the fire when he woke up the following morning.

"I feel responsible, because if I wouldn't have left, I would have been there to see the flames, I would have been there to put it out before anything had happened," he said tearfully.

"It was so damn cold, I hardly could move."

Tom Spooner, a friend of the woman burned in the fire, said she had lit two candles inside her tent to keep warm.

'It's getting worse and worse'

Bill Raddatz, the executive director of Ruth and Naomi's Mission, said that the woman was known to his staff.

He said one staff member noticed her setting up camp beside the mission on Tuesday night.

He invited her to come inside, but when she declined he asked her to leave, because she appeared to be using drugs. The mission also functions as an addiction treatment centre.

"It's getting worse and worse," said Raddatz, who has lived in Chilliwack for 22 years.

"Three years ago, we were sitting at 78 people who were declared known homeless — the last homeless count done this year in the spring put that number at 221."

Last year, a 51-year-old woman died after heavy snow collected on the top of her shelter, causing the roof to collapse on her as she slept.

In late October, a homeless camp in Chilliwack was handed a notice of trespass.

"The situation is getting dire here in Chilliwack," said Raddatz.

The woman sustained severe burns and was airlifted to hospital. (Susana Da Silva/CBC)

With files from Susana Da Silva

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