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Three fires at Waterloo Region encampments in six days

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Flames erupted at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener Thursday morning, marking the third fire at a Waterloo Region encampment in six days.

It comes as temperatures drop and people try to stay warm. 

Emergency responders were called to a small encampment, diagonally across the road from the larger tent community beside the Kitchener GO Station around 7 a.m. Thursday.

The city said the flames were put out quickly and no one was hurt.

The cause of the fire is undetermined at this point, the city said.

The damaged area was fenced off.

On Saturday, flames destroyed two tents at the main Victoria and Weber encampment. No one was hurt. Officials said a cooking mishap started the fire.

On Wednesday, emergency crews were called to a fire at an encampment beside Highway 401 in Cambridge. Officials haven’t said what started the flames in that case or if anyone was hurt.

Viewer video shows flames at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener on Nov. 30, 2023. (Submitted/Hannah Kavanagh)

ADVOCATES SAY FIRES UNDERLINE NEED FOR HOUSING

Local advocacy groups, including The Working Centre, say the recent trend in encampment fires is concerning. Through their work with the unhoused community, staff say fires are often caused by people trying to stay warm.

“With the winter months, people will do anything and everything they need to do to survive and stay warm,” Nikki Britton, a social worker with The Working Centre, said.

Britton said the recent string of fires is just another reminder of the need for emergency shelters and affordable permanent housing in the region.

“Historically, we’re a region and a community where nobody is left behind,” she said.

“Growingly, we see an increase in numbers of people experiencing homelessness and more difficulty accessing spaces within the shelter system.”

Fire vehicles are seen at an encampment at the corner of Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener on Nov. 30, 2023. (Chris Thomson/CTV Kitchener)

Every year, The Working Centre delivers winter warming packages to local encampments. In a few weeks they’ll be delivered, and for the first time, they’ll include fire extinguishers.

“We’re really trying to respond to needs as they arise and hearing the concerns of residents of the encampments and the unsheltered community and trying to offer the best approach that we can,” Britton said.

“The most difficult thing is we can hand out winter warming packages and fire extinguishers, but really that seems inadequate when really the root of the concern is a lack of places for people to be.”

Kitchener encampment resident Dean Daley said it’s a sad feeling watching the fires happen, and he’s hoping to see more supports around the region as the holidays approach.

“Reach out to us and make sure we have somewhere to go so we can sleep at night in peace and don’t have to worry about fires setting all through the night,” Daley said.

“We have to make sure everyone is safe.”

Charred belongings sit behind fire tape. (Chris Thomson/CTV Kitchener)

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