Fire crews knock down 3rd fire in 2 weeks Vancouver's Strathcona Park homeless camp

Firefighters in Vancouver have knocked down another fire at the Strathcona Park homeless encampment. It's the third fire at the park in the past two weeks.

Vancouver Fire Rescue Service received a report of explosions in the park around 7:30 on Thursday evening. Crews arrived to find one tent fully engulfed in flames. The fire was quickly extinguished, and damage was contained to the one tent. There were no reported injuries, and the cause has not been officially determined.

However, Strathcona Park encampment resident Kris Janelle has an idea of how the blaze began.

"People are freezing, so they're going to do what they have to do. Unfortunately, that causes people to put barbecues in tents. Just things that are not very good," he says.

On March 30, the Vancouver Park Board issued an order that all tents and other structures be cleared out of the northeast corner of Strathcona Park by 10 a.m. Thursday, April 8. It's an extension of the park board order issued in February that restricted tents from being set up on the west side of the park.

While dozens of makeshift shelters are standing on the park grounds, this latest order only affects 12 tents.

Following reports of assaults, overdoses, and – most recently – three fires, park board commissioner John Coupar says the entire camp should be shut down immediately.

"It's a continuing health and safety issue,” Coupar told CTV News Vancouver. “Let's get real and think about how long this has been going on. It's been a year here. It was a year previously at Oppenheimer Park. I think it's much too slow."

The City of Vancouver, along with BC Housing, is opening two temporary shelters this month, with the goal of housing all Strathcona Park campers by the end of April. One of those buildings is a city-owned warehouse near Terminal Avenue, and the other is the former Army & Navy building on West Hastings.

BC Housing has also purchased three hotels in Vancouver, which will be converted into supportive housing for those currently experiencing homelessness. 

The province announced it is spending $75.5 million to take ownership of the Patricia Hotel on East Hastings and two other properties on Main Street.

The announcement comes as the federal government also commits to buying three Vancouver hotels, including the downtown Ramada. Altogether, the six properties will provide 340 permanent supportive homes.

“We welcome anyone who is able to accept housing that is safe and meaningful to them, to take it. I don’t want anyone to be out here,” says Chrissy Brett, organizer of the Strathcona encampment, which she now refers to as Hopes Nation.

However, Brett anticipates many homeless campers will be reluctant to move into government-run housing, due to past trauma.

"If that doesn't work for them, this community will still be here at the end of the day."

Brett says she has no plans for decampment. Meanwhile, the park board says it will have Strathcona Park back to normal operations, including recreational activities and community programs, as quickly as possible. Remediation work won't begin until campers are moved into housing and all structures in the encampment have been dismantled.