WHALLEY – A fire that caused a tent to go up in flames on 135A Street Tuesday afternoon, injuring a man and woman, might have been started by somebody “processing” drugs.
“The reports I have is one patient remained on scene with first-degree burns, first or second, and a second patient actually went with an ambulance directly to the hospital,” said Surrey Deputy Fire Chief Mark Griffioen.
“The reports when crews arrived on scene were that there was an explosion and the tent was completely burned up and had been extinguished by the RCMP before fire crews arrived and our inspectors reported that the condition of what they found on scene was consistent with reports that there was butane and propane being used to process drugs,” Griffioen said.
“I think there was a mention of hash oil,” he said. “All I can say is our discovery was consistent with the report that that’s what they were doing.”
Jas Rehal, Surrey’s bylaw manager, said the fire was discovered inside the tent around 2 p.m. Tueday.
“Our Surrey Outreach Team goes tent to tent to check on occupants,” Rehal said. “Cooking equipment is not permitted and that has been clearly communicated to everyone down there.”
Surrey’s 135A Street “Strip” has seen an increase of homelessness over the past year, and although Surrey has launched a Surrey Outreach Team that is along the road 24/7, the city maintains that shelter space is what is truly required.
Last week, Mayor Linda Hepner said she needed 100 housing units for the homeless along 135A “immediately.”
Hepner says she’s going after several hundred of the 2,000 housing units for homeless promised in the provincial budget.
“Heading into this winter, we need 100 units, maybe 150, immediately for the homeless on 135A Street,” Hepner told the Now-Leader.
She said they are “urgently” needed.
“Our homeless count was 450, so we need from our poverty reduction plan about 450 units, possibly even more. But the critical need is to find housing for those that are on 135A Street. I cannot do that in the absence of support services because they have many complex issues. Then another 100, potentially 150, are urgently required,” she added.
Hepner said she’s confident the province will come through for Surrey, based on what she categorized as “favourable comments” in talks with the Minister and Premier.
“There is a plan we’re working on with the province,” she revealed.
She expects more details to be released soon, but said it likely wouldn’t be this month.
Finance Minister Carole James presented the provincial budget update Monday, with $291 million over two years to build and operate 2,000 modular housing units for homeless people, with round-the-clock staffing and support services.
In late August, Councillor Tom Gill said the city has taken a “humanitarian” approach there for the past year, given the fentanyl crisis, but added that may change once more shelter spaces open.
Gill said affordable housing includes everyone from middle-class residents trying to acquire their first home, right down to those living on the street.
But, Gill said some people living on the street won’t take a home, even when it’s offered to them.
“There comes a time that being a little more forceful in terms of having mandatory engagement and expectations from the street folks. That is what would be expected…. I’d use the words, ‘tough love,’” he said.
— with files by Tom Zytaruk