City to remove homeless encampments after fire razes teepee shelter
WINNIPEG -- After a ceremonial teepee set up as a shelter for the homeless was destroyed by fire, the city says make-shift shelters are posing too great a risk and it's only through "extraordinarily good fortune" that no one has been seriously injured or died.
The City of Winnipeg said it will remove the homeless encampments Thursday morning after a fire burned a teepee shelter to the ground.
"Unfortunately, recent incidents have shown the risk at these two prominent temporary encampments in Downtown Winnipeg is too great to mitigate," the city told CTV News in a written statement, referring to encampments on Henry Avenue and Martha Street.
Firefighters responded to a fire around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the location on Henry Avenue near the Disraeli Bridge, where they found the teepee and its contents completely engulfed in flames.
They managed to put out the fire within a short time. The spokesperson said the teepee was not occupied at the time, and no injuries were reported.
This was the second fire this month in the same area. The city said it's become a “temporary encampment.”
There has been some controversy around the area. The city removed some warming shacks built by students to help the homeless in November, but shortly after two ceremonial teepees were put up.
At the time, the city indicated it recognized the structures were ceremonial rather than permanent and decided against knocking them down.
Now the city says the latest fire just shows the temporary encampments in Downtown Winnipeg pose too great a risk.
"Everyone deserves a safe place to sleep at night, and these encampments, as they are currently established, are not safe," the city said. "It is only through extraordinarily good fortune that there have not been any serious injuries or deaths in the previous fires. We need to learn from the experience of the fires to date to ensure the safety of the occupants."
There has been one injury reported at the temporary encampments. Around 5 a.m. on Jan. 3, firefighters put out a small tent fire and some smouldering materials at the site. In that incident, paramedics took one person to hospital in stable condition.
The cause of that fire is believed to be accidental, caused by a candle left burning in the tent.
The city said the cause of the more recent fire is undetermined, but CTV News spoke with people at the camp who said they had a fire going in the teepee at the time.
A resident of the encampment told CTV News they had a firekeeper who was responsible for watching over the fire. He says he is unsure how the blaze could have happened.
The city said there are many factors in the camps that pose a safety risk. Because there are no heat sources, candles, propane heaters and campfires are used in highly combustible shelters.
"For example, poly tarpaulins are readily combustible and will melt, dripping burning material downward," the city said.
The shelters also pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, the city said.
The city said it will be cleaning up any materials at the site Thursday morning. It said Main Street Project and other social outreach providers are working with the people living in the camps to find alternate shelter.
"We recognize this is not an ideal outcome, but hope the individuals will accept the supports they are offered and utilize one of the many open shelter beds in the city – especially considering this week’s extreme cold snap."
With files from CTV's Jon Hendricks and Tim Salzen