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Sooke homeless camp sparks fear with another park fire

‘We have been falling short in the care of this public space,’ says district
A Sooke municipal worker cleans up after a fire at a homeless encampment in Sooke last weekend. (Rick Stiebel - Sooke News Mirror)

For Mary Marshall, the fire that erupted on Saturday night in Ed MacGregor Park was akin to her worst nightmare coming true.

“Three trees caught fire and the pieces of ash floating around were as big as your hand,” said Marshall, who lives on Horne Road bordering the park. ”If the trees hadn’t been soaking wet, they may all have gone up. If houses catch fire they’re replaceable, but your treasured possessions are not.”

Residents, including Marshall, had been expressing concerns to the District of Sooke about the homeless encampment at the park for months, intensifying after a fire in October.

Marshall visited Sooke Municipal Hall on Monday to express her serious concerns. Officials promised to schedule a meeting at the park.

Marshall said she has spoken to people who avoid the park due to fear.

“We’ve had enough,” she stressed. “I just want them to get (the homeless) out of the park. I have no empathy anymore. It’s mostly drug addicts living there.”

Sooke Fire Rescue responded to a reported structure fire at Ed Macgregor Park on Saturday evening. Upon arrival, firefighters discovered a vacant tent fully engulfed in flames. The fire was quickly extinguished and the affected area was cordoned off for further cleanup.

The district thoroughly cleaned the park to address the fire aftermath and the surrounding area. Staff worked with the owner of belongings stored near the park’s amphitheater to secure personal items and dispose of remaining materials.

Chief administrative officer Raechel Gray said that although district staff has attempted to navigate the complexities of the situation, “we have been falling short in the care of this public space.”

According to a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision, it is legal to stay overnight in parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. if there is insufficient shelter space in the community. This provision does not provide for long-term storage of personal belongings.

The district has reestablished an action plan to increase maintenance and ensure Ed Macgregor Park is a safe and welcoming space. Visitors can expect a heightened presence of bylaw services and outreach workers in the park.

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About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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