British Columbia

Residents of 'Sugar Mountain' tent city slam crackdown by firefighters

City of Vancouver says stoves and heating devices are fire hazards and were removed for safety reasons

CBC News

November 09, 2017

Firefighters removed stoves and heaters from Vancouver's 'Sugar Mountain' tent city on Tuesday. (Denis Dossmann/CBC News)

Residents of a tent city in east Vancouver are wondering how they'll cook and stay warm after firefighters raided the camp this week to remove fire hazards.

Personnel with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services visited the encampment at 1115 Franklin St. on Tuesday morning, removing stoves and heating devices from tents.

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"Fuel-powered appliances present significant hazards when used inside enclosed, fabric spaces," the city said in a press release.

"In at least three recent examples in other B.C. municipalities, occupants of tents have been killed or severely burned when an ignition source ignited their tent or other belongings."

Just this week, a Chilliwack woman was severely burned when her tent caught fire after she fell asleep beside lit candles, three hours after firefighters in the same city responded to another blaze in a homeless camp.

'I think it's horrific'

But some residents of the tent city, nicknamed "Sugar Mountain," say the stoves were only used in a designated cooking area, and heaters weren't switched on unless they were outside the tents.

"I think it's horrific," said one resident, who gave her name as Nadine.  "It's a human need, it's a basic need to eat."

They also allege that firefighters cut through the fabric of some of the tents to get inside.

"We weren't given any notice or anything," said Joyce Jackson, who was sleeping beside her fiance when a firefighter arrived at the entrance to their tent.

The Sugar Mountain tent city was established in June, after residents were forced out of another encampment on Main Street.

Ward Ferguson has been living in the tent city for four or five months. (Denis Dossmann/CBC News)

Fifty-two-year-old Ward Ferguson has been living in the camp for a few months, and said he values the sense of community among the approximately 50 people living there.

On Thursday, he was watching four or five tents for his neighbours while they were away from the camp.

"I consider most of these people in here family," he said.

Ferguson has been homeless for about a year, and says his only other choices for housing are finding a bachelor apartment or living with the strict rules of an SRO.

"I can't afford the higher rent of a bachelor suite," he said. "Here I can have a guest, I can cook, I can do what I want to do."

The city says staff are working with residents of the tent city to find shelter space, and they've already found places for 10 people. Council will also be reviewing a report next week on the possibility of allowing temporary modular housing on the Sugar Mountain site.

However, residents of the camp said they're not interested in temporary solutions.

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