Dozens displaced after fire tears through homeless camp in Chilliwack
Fire officials say it appears blaze started in or near a tent on site
As many as 30 people were forced to find a new place to sleep Wednesday night after a large fire broke out at a homeless camp in Chilliwack.
Firefighters were called to Yale Road near Alexander Avenue around 6 p.m. PT. The camp is set up under an overpass in the area.
Assistant Fire Chief Michael Bourdon said fire crews were able to quickly extinguish the fire and no one was injured.
Investigators returned to the scene Thursday to determine exactly what caused the fire, but Bourdon confirmed it appears the fire started in or near a tent on site.
Tents and possessions 'burned to the ground'
Bill Raddatz is the executive director of Ruth and Naomi's Place in Chilliwack and works closely with the city's homeless population.
He went down to the site when he got word of the fire.
"[The fire] was quite big. Knowing the size of camp and the number of tents that remain, I would say there were five tents for sure that got burned down to the ground," said Raddatz.
"It's pretty well all their worldly possessions and they're all carried in bags or knapsacks or shopping carts. They were just burned to the ground."
Raddatz said he's heard the fire may have been caused by a propane tank and heater igniting inside a tent. Temperatures dipped into the double digits below freezing in Chilliwack last night and it's likely some were just trying to stay warm.
People living at the camp were taken to a nearby McDonalds where they were given warm coffee and the chance to go to one of the city's shelters for the night.
Busy year for Chilliwack shelters
Raddatz said there are three shelters in Chilliwack: The Salvation Army, The Cyrus Centre and his operation. Between the three he said there are 100 spaces available for people looking for a place to sleep.
All three shelters have a policy not to turn people away, but still, Raddatz said some prefer to stay in a camp.
Raddatz said in the past year there has been a spike in the number of homeless people in the city.
"We used to have on a night maybe 15 or 16 people in an emergency. This year we're well up over 100," said Raddataz.
"It's started to accelerate to where we've had — I would say — phenomenal growth."
Raddatz said he believes there's been an influx of homeless people from other parts of the lower mainland, including Maple Ridge, where the city's mayor says shelters are at capacity.