Second provincial fire safety order issued against Discontent City

Nanaimo mayor calls on province for help

A second fire safety order has been issued to the occupants of Discontent City.

Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire chief and the city’s director of public safety, told the News Bulletin that another provincial fire safety order has been issued. She said the latest order is similar to the first order but specifically orders the occupants to address improper storage of propane tanks and gasoline cans, adding that there is also a propane filling centre which is not allowed.

“This order is really about the safety of the occupants,” she said.

Fry said she and other city officials were down at Discontent City today and observed people using a cooking stove with an open flame inside their tent.

“There are also generators that people are using inside their tents which has a huge risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.”

She said a recent fire and explosion inside a tent at Discontent City caused serious injury to an individual and that officials remain concerned because the first fire safety order is not being complied with, despite an increase in population at the camp.

However, Fry said the second order does provide the occupants with some options to have fire-resistant shelter on the property.

“We did give them some options for compliance,” she said.

Fry said with more than 200 tents on the property, she remains concerned about the increasing number of tarps. She said tarps are more flammable than people think and with open flames nearby, they can catch fire quickly.

“What we do know is that tarps will melt very quickly and rapidly,” she said, adding that occupants are beginning to use tarps over multiple tents, which only increases the risk of a fire.

Fry also said with so many people on the site, it has become more challenging for emergency vehicles to access the site.

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Sophie Wendling, an organizer and advocate of Discontent City, told the News Bulletin yesterday that they were attempting to comply with the fire safety order but campers were struggling to do so because of a lack of space. She also said that they were attempting to have a system in place where propane tanks would be locked and not accessible to everyone on site.

Fry said she is aware that the occupants have been talking about implementing a propane lock system, but has seen no evidence to suggest they’ve done so. She also said the claim that more space is needed in order for the occupants to comply with the order is inaccurate.

“There is enough space for them there to comply,” she said.

Asked whether the city would have to head back to court for compliance, Fry did not comment.

“We will continue to engage them and educate them and speak with them and speak with their representatives on the importances of maintaining a safe living space,” the fire chief said.

Fry also said claims that city bylaw officers are telling individuals to go to Discontent City are untrue.

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said he’s asked the province to step in and provide immediate assistance and has he has a phone call scheduled with Selina Robinson, the province’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, on Monday, Sept. 18. He said the city just wants “concrete” help from the province.

“We are looking for resources, regardless of which way the judge’s order goes, we have spent a fair bit of time waiting for information from B..C Housing and they have not been forthcoming,” he said, adding that he wants Robinson to pledge that the province will “come to the table” for discussions.

McKay said there are “real significant” issues at Discontent City and that tensions are “unbearable” within the camp and could be “explosive.”

“We need the resources, we need to be able to come up with solutions here. We need to look to the winter. We need to be able to go through the place and determine who needs housing, what kind of housing they need and the folks in their need to start opening up to us,” McKay said. “Give us your name for heaven sakes. We can’t help you if we don’t have your name.”

The city is seeking to have Discontent City shut down and a two-day statutory injunction hearing took place this past July in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. A ruling has not yet been made by Justice Ronald Skolrood, who did not issue an enforcement order around compliance with a previous fire safety order.

McKay said since the judge didn’t back up his own order on the campers to comply with the fire safety order with a police enforcement order, there are now all kinds of examples of fire hazards at Discontent City.

“Last night a fellow strapped himself to a propane tank and threatened to blow everybody up if we don’t let him move the fence,” McKay said. “This is ridiculous. There is gasoline everywhere leaking around the camp, underneath tents. I saw a picture today of a path of gasoline that had spilled and was literally going underneath the tents … and I am told that somebody emptied a commercial grade explosive, like a commercial grade fireworks canister into a bowl and then somebody used [the bowl] as an ashtray.”

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP media spokesperson, said the police have not heard any reports about a man strapping himself to a propane tank at Discontent City.




nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
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