Small fires around the city over the past few weeks have sparked concern from the Salmon Arm Fire Department.
Following a fire on March 4 above the railway tracks by the Foreshore Trail, Fire Chief Brad Shirley spoke about calls firefighters have responded to lately.
“We’ve had a few of them in the last couple of weeks. Small miscellaneous fires have been started, nobody around, we assume they’re homeless people trying to keep warm.
“We’ve been working with the RCMP, trying to find who is having these fires and educate them about the potential danger of not only harming themselves but other property,” Shirley said.
He pointed out that it was March 5, 2020 that a man living in a camp he’d set up near Buckerfield’s in Salmon Arm died in a fire there. The man was identified as Vincent (Vinny) Larson.
Regarding the recent fire near the tracks, Shirley said it was below the 1400 block of Lakeshore Road.
“It was a little challenging to get at given the terrain and close proximity to the railway tracks… Crews responded to what appeared to be a homeless camp on fire. There was an occupant there.”
“Although there were some reports of an explosion, we weren’t able to find the source. When we have incidents at the camps, we often see propane bottles, whatever they use for heat.”
He said the fire covered about 20 square feet of ground, burning bushes and small trees as well as a number of personal items.
“These types of fires are concerning to us, especially once the drier weather is upon us. They certainly have the potential to become quickly out of control or harder to control,” Shirley said.
“Fortunately in this incident, no one was injured.”
Shirley said other recent fires have included one in the parking lot off Hudson by the Telus building, as well as one down over the bank from the Husky gas station.
He said firefighters are trying to work with the people who are living rough as well as the different agencies who help support them.
Mayor Alan Harrison said the city shares Shirley’s concern about fires.
“As you are aware the Lighthouse Shelter now operates 24/7, providing meals and housing for those in need. In addition, Larch Place is now welcoming tenants, with Birch Place to follow in early summer. The supportive housing units in Cedar Place are due to open prior to next winter, providing shelter and supports to residents who stay there,” Harrison wrote in an email.
“Despite these housing options there are still people camping outside. Unauthorized camping is not permitted on city property, and our bylaw department enforces this. However, we do know that people are camping on other properties within the city limits. We will continue to work with the fire department, RCMP, outreach worker, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) and other social agencies to assist.”
Asked about the possibility of a tiny-house encampment or something similar to house people who can’t stay in traditional housing for a variety of reasons, Coun. Louise Wallace-Richmond, who chairs the city’s Social Impact Advisory Committee, responded.
She said the city works alongside and supports the social services sector, because they are the experts in delivering services.
“If an experienced social housing provider were to consider delivering this type of service, the city would be consulted, a process would be followed and we would advocate for higher levels of government to assist if supported and needed,” she said.
She reiterated that camping in local parks and city facilities will continue to be strictly prohibited because of the high risk of fire.