Lift ban on tarps on Surrey strip during heavy rain, says homeless advocate
Surrey fire chief says fire a big risk in area and number of incidents increasing
The rain has been pounding down all week and one community advocate is appealing to the City of Surrey to soften the rules and allow homeless people to use non-flame resistant tarps in the wet weather.
Surrey bylaws, in accordance with the B.C. Fire Code and B.C. Building Code, prohibit open fires and require all tarps covering tents to be fire-retardant.
Officials say there is a significant fire risk and have cracked down on fire-prevention enforcement in the so-called 'Surrey strip,' Surrey's 135A Street.
Erin Schulte, founder of Surrey's Pop-Up Soup Kitchen, works with homeless people in area and said vulnerable people cannot keep sufficiently warm or dry in this weather. She has launched an online petition to lift the ban on tarps.
"It was like a river running down the sidewalk this week," Schulte said. "The rain was coming in sideways and a fly just isn't able to protect the vulnerable that are inside the tents. They are just getting soaked."
Schulte told CBC host of The Early Edition Rick Cluff she is concerned about safety but she doesn't think that fires are the biggest risk in the current weather conditions.
"The fire issue, in all honesty, is a very, very small portion of the dangers on that street," Schulte said.
Fire risk significant: chief
Chief of the Surrey Fire Service Len Garis disagrees and said fires do pose a significant risk.
"We've had over 20 fires there [since January 2016] ... about one a month that we are attending, and it's increasing," he said.
Just last week, there were three separate incidents of people being burned on the Surrey strip.
"What we are concerned about is a conflagration — when one fire starts and then the next one and the next one," he said. "We have an obligation to protect the individuals that are in the group."
Garis said he is sympathetic to the situation and, in the past, the fire department has handed out solar lamps, hot water bottles and blankets but lifting the tarp ban is not the solution.
To hear more, click on the audio link below:
With files from The Early Edition.