After an early morning fire scorched a well-established encampment along Pat Bay Highway, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has renewed efforts to connect the campers with housing and clean the site.
At 3:50 a.m. on Jan. 14 the Saanich Fire Department was dispatched to a blaze that had sparked at an encampment of unhoused individuals on ministry-owned land between the highway and McKenzie Avenue. More than 20 firefighters responded with three fire engines and a ladder truck, and managed to put out the fire by 4:40 a.m.
At 0350 hours we responded to a report of a structure fire adjacent to the Pat Bay Hwy. 3 Engines, a Ladder and Rescue responded with 21 FF’s. Upon arrival, crews observed large flames from a known homeless encampment. There were no injuries. Cause is under investigation.
— Saanich Fire (@SaanichFire) January 14, 2021
According to Deputy Fire Chief Dan Wood, the encampment was “well-entrenched” and officials were aware that several individuals have been camping on the ministry land for about eight years, but as the land is out of the municipality’s jurisdiction, there wasn’t much that could be done.
|A fire sparked at a well-established encampment on land managed by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure between the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue early Thursday morning. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)|
On Friday, a spokesperson told Black Press Media that the ministry has been monitoring the small encampment for some time. After some small fires were reported at the site in the spring of 2020, the campers were given notice that they needed to vacate the area due to “heightened concerns about safety.”
However, the ministry didn’t enforce the eviction notice because BC Housing was working to connect with the campers. By allowing the unhoused individuals to continue living at the site, the ministry ensured that BC Housing staff could “maintain contact with the people, build relationships and begin to connect them to services and housing.”
The recent fire has renewed safety concerns and the ministry is working with Saanich police, Saanich fire and BC Housing to secure the encampment site and help the individuals find somewhere to stay.
“We have fenced the site to make sure the area is secure and safe in preparation for clean up,” the spokesperson said.
According to the Saanich Fire Department, the cause of the fire remains under investigation and no injuries have been reported.
Anyone who is experiencing homelessness and would like help finding a place to stay indoors can reach out to BC Housing by calling 1-877-257-7756 or going to 941 Pandora Ave.