Fires near Moncton homeless encampments raise safety concerns

A number of fires recently in and around homeless encampments in Moncton have become a major concern for the people living there and for those fighting the fires.

“There was debris burning and we put the fire out pretty quickly,” said Moncton Fire Chief Conrad Landry. “There was nobody around. It’s not necessarily the person living there that causes the fire, so we’re trying to determine what caused it. Who caused it, that’s an RCMP thing.”

These types of calls have become pretty common for the Moncton Fire Department.

“I would ballpark that it’s around one or two a night again,” Landry said. “Right now, it’s not that cold. When the colder weather comes in there’s more and more of these so I would say an average of one or two per day.”

That takes a toll on firefighters and there’s also the possibility it could delay the response to a more serious situation.

But with the city’s homeless population on the rise, these calls are inevitable.

“The concern is maybe they fall asleep and their tent catches on fire or their property or the grass or whatever it is, so that is definitely a concern,” said Trevor Goodwin, the outreach director for the Moncton YMCA. “It’s a hard thing to battle.”

Landry says because of the number of services available, the city is attractive to anyone who finds themselves on the street.

Goodwin is in charge of the YMCA’s Reconnect program. He says the shelters that are available aren’t always an appealing option.

“To get them to go into shelters you need to address the issues that are there at the shelters themselves,” Goodwin says. “A lot of these individuals are sleeping outside by choice, they don’t feel safe in the shelters, they don’t feel that it’s a therapeutic environment.”

So instead, people choose to sleep rough, where staying warm by a fire can be a matter of life or death.

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