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Squatter fires should be reported: city
Deputy fire chief says fires at homeless camps illegal

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Friday, May 22, 2015

With an extreme fire rating in effect for Yellowknife, no rain in the short-range forecast and a fire ban likely, the city's deputy fire chief of operations is telling residents to keep an eye out for smoke from homeless encampments.

Craig MacLean's comments follow a small brush fire this Sunday afternoon at a makeshift campsite off Gitzel Street near the Frame Lake Trail. Another fire was reported in the green space behind the Canadian Tire store yesterday.

According to MacLean it wasn't a difficult fire to bring under control once they got to it.

"There is no road access so there are always some issues with that, but nothing a hose line couldn't reach," he said.

"At first what we tried to do, because it's so dry out there, is try to extend our aerial device to reach into the area to spray water but the reach wasn't far enough so we had to deploy (hose) lines and go by hand."

It is clear that the unattended, illegal campfire was started by squatters, MacLean said.

"They'd been cutting down trees in the area to use as a fuel source and there was a hatchet still on scene," he said.

"It's pretty simple. In the city of Yellowknife you cannot have an open fire unless you have an approved pit. That is a bylaw."

Firefighters will inspect and approve fire pits free of charge, MacLean said. But these folks aren't going to go through the process of having us come and inspect and approve their fire pits, he added.

MacLean doesn't think that there is any way to fully prevent open fires like the one that led to Sunday's blaze.

"We've posted signage that says no fires allowed in certain areas but unless people adhere to those - it keeps the honest people aware but the people who choose not to following those postings, well there's not much we can do."

Usually when these camps are identified what we do in conjunction with other city divisions - community services and municipal enforcement - we go in and clean them out," MacLean said.

But the camps move around, he added.

"We deal with these repeatedly every year. (The camps) are all along the Frame Lake Trail, behind the legislative assembly, Twin Pine Hill, Tin Can Hill, off Butler Road. There are numerous areas and they move from one to the other."

They purposely keep the fires low so not to attract the attention of authorities, MacLean said.

"They've learned to keep fires small enough that it doesn't create a lot of smoke and attention. But in this latest fire it hadn't been controlled properly and was noticed by a passerby who called it in," he said.

Because it is so dry, people should watch for smoke coming from green spaces in the city and call the fire department if they see smoke or fire coming from them, MacLean said.

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