A cigarette discarded from a moving vehicle — not homeless individuals — likely started the grass fire that shrouded parts of Greater Victoria in smoke Tuesday afternoon.
Lt. Insp. Carl Trepels of the Saanich Fire Department said Thursday that the location of where the fire started likely points to a cigarette that somebody had tossed out the window while driving.
“It’s likely it was started by somebody driving, given how close it was to the curb,” he said.
Trepels said the fire started in the southbound lane of Blanshard Street, just south of Saanich Road. 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 a curtain of yellowish smoke.
The site of the fire, across the street from the Saanich News, belongs to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. It has served as a temporary sheltering site for homeless individuals for years. Tents, tucked between tufts of trees, appear atop the rocky outcrop year-round, but especially during the summer months.
Questions about the cause of the fire immediately focused on whether homeless individuals living in the area might have had any part in starting the fire, with Saanich Police interviewing area residents.
But the investigation has so far uncovered no evidence that homeless individuals bear responsibility, said Trepels, who commended crews for their quick response.
“The crews did a fantastic job containing this fire,” he said.
Trepels said the fire is a timely reminder about the dry conditions that are current prevailing, and he urges residents to be more careful and considerate of their actions — unlike the individual, whose “careless and irresponsible act” led to the fire.
“This is a perfect example of what can happen when people do that,” he said.
This said, Tuesday’s fire also likely intensified scrutiny of a homeless camp, 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 Tuesday. “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.