Vancouver firefighters extinguish blaze in Downtown Eastside tent as tensions remain over eviction order

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On Saturday morning, firefighters say they extinguished a fire in an unoccupied tent in the East Hastings Street on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Late last month, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services had ordered the immediate removal of tents and structures along East Hastings Street over fire safety concerns. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
On Saturday morning, firefighters say they extinguished a fire in an unoccupied tent in the East Hastings Street on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Late last month, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services had ordered the immediate removal of tents and structures along East Hastings Street over fire safety concerns. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

Firefighters extinguished a fire in an unoccupied tent on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Saturday morning.

It comes after a deadline to remove tents and structures along East Hastings Street due to safety concerns has come and gone.

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Bertuzzi with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said crews found a tent fully engulfed in flames on East Hastings Street sometime Saturday morning. Crews quickly extinguished the blaze, which did not spread to any surrounding tents or structures.

The tent was not occupied at the time, Bertuzzi said, and appeared to be used to store items.

Bertuzzi said investigators are looking into what sparked the fire, "albeit there was not much left for them to investigate it ... because it destroyed all the contents that was inside the tent."

Late last month, Vancouver's fire department ordered the immediate removal of tents and structures along East Hastings Street. The city said the order emphasized the increased fire risk associated with the shelters set up along the road.

There have been several fires in the area in recent weeks, including one that destroyed a community church and another, farther east on Hastings Street, that reduced a Value Village store to rubble.

However, the deadline to remove the tents and their occupants has passed, and no firm solutions have been announced yet for alternative living arrangements for the unhoused people there.

Prior to the order, the City of Vancouver awarded a number of community organizations combined contracts worth $50,000 to make the area safe for residents.

Brittany Graham of VANDU, a community organization that is part of "Our Streets," a block stewardship program contracted by the city to work with tent city residents starting July 11, said they were "blindsided" by the announcement and says officials are politicizing the issue of fire safety.

BeeLee Lee, another peer worker in the neighbourhood, said they don't know what the city expects from them.

"The system is constantly retraumatizing people because they have this looming date over their head that keeps changing and isn't coming," Lee said.

In a statement Friday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he "was working with non-profit housing and social service providers" to find accommodation for the unhoused people in the neighbourhood. He called on higher levels of government to assist with more funding.