Tuesday’s grass fire on the meridian along Blanshard Street and Saanich Road has reinforced existing concerns about the Regina Park tent city.
The recent fire started just after 1 p.m. on Tuesday on a piece of property that belongs to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. The blaze scorched trees, shrubs and grass, and snarled traffic on one of the busiest highways in the region. It shrouded buildings, including parts of Uptown, behind heavy and sent plumes of yellowish smoke into the sky over the geographical heart of Greater Victoria. As smoke drifted across the area, it caused considerable commotion as observers tried to catch a glimpse of the fire and efforts to contain it.
As of late Tuesday, the cause of the fire remained under investigation, said Bob Schuttinga, platoon commander with the Saanich Fire Department.
The site of the fire, across the street from the Saanich News, has served as a temporary sheltering site for homeless individuals for years. Tents appear atop the rocky outcrop and tucked between tufts of trees, both year round and especially during the summer months. While Saanich Police were interviewing individuals residing in the area Tuesday, it is not clear yet what, if any role, people living their might have played in the fire.
But if this aspect remains uncertain, the fire was surely noticed by residents living near Regina Park, where several dozen people continue to live in tents in defiance of various notices from the District of Saanich and the Saanich Fire Department.
“I stated two months ago, that I thought the encampment at Regina Park would increase the risk of fire during the hot summer weather,” said Mayor Richard Atwell. “We’ve issued two notices under the Fire Services Act [on June 8 and June 15] and we are monitoring the park on a daily basis,” he said.
The Regina Park camp site, located within walking distance of Tuesday’s fire, sprung up two months ago to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in the region.
It has since grown and its continuing presence is a concern among the surrounding neighbourhood. Saanich Police reported that crime rates have spiked since the camp sprung up and soaring temperatures have only intensified worries of a blaze that could threaten the vulnerable occupants of Regina Park and possibly nearby homes.
Authorities last week accessed the Regina Park camp to enforce fire safety standards and Tuesday’s grass fire at Blanshard will likely intensify scrutiny of the Regina.
The fire hazard rating has been set at a high for several weeks, said Atwell, who also used the occasion to ensure the public that the Saanich Fire Department would be able to respond quickly.
“The Saanich Fire Department is very capable and effective as seen as with [Tuesday’s] grass fire and SFD continues to monitor on a daily basis the situation in Regina Park to mitigate risks to safety,” Atwell said.