New Brunswick

No one injured after fire at Saint John tent encampment

There were no injuries reported after a tent caught fire at an encampment Sunday evening on Exmouth Street.

The fire broke out Sunday evening on Exmouth Street

Burnt tent encampment
Saint John Fire Platoon Chief Josh Hennessy said 12 firefighters arrived to find the tent in flames. (Rhythm Rathi/CBC)

No one has been injured after a fire at a tent encampment in Saint John Sunday evening. 

Crews were called to the encampment near Exmouth Street just after 7:40 p.m. AT.

Saint John Fire Platoon Chief Josh Hennessy said 12 firefighters arrived to find the tent in flames.

"There were concerns about other units catching on fire; however, the crews were able to get a quick knock-down on it and contain it to just the one unit," he said.

Tent encampment
Crews were called to the encampment near Exmouth Street just after 7:30 p.m. AT. (Rhythm Rathi/CBC)

The tent was destroyed by the fire. The fire department hasn't determined the cause.

The Saint John Police Force said its forensic identification unit was also at the scene. The force's major crimes unit is taking over the investigation and will be reviewing evidence.

Hennessy said firefighters have been visiting known encampments to familiarize themselves with the areas in the event of an emergency like this, while also educating the people living there about safe warming practices.

Woman smiling at camera
Melanie Vautour, executive director of Fresh Start, says there will be a risk of fires as long as there are people who require living in a tent. (Rhythm Rathi/CBC)

"For those that are trying to keep warm, we certainly hope they're doing it in the safest manner possible." 

In early January, a 44-year-old man died in a fire at a homeless encampment near the Main Street Viaduct over Route 1.

Melanie Vautour, the executive director of Fresh Start, said the poverty-related community agency in Saint John has four outreach specialists who rushed to the site of the fire "to make sure everyone was OK and to start problem solving to help individuals access other accommodations."

Vautour said staff and volunteers also tend to these scenes to provide emotional support.

She said, for people living in tents in the winter, there is always going to be a risk of fires. 

"As long as we have individuals who have to live in a tent, they will have to use an open flame to generate heat," said Vautour.

"For us, it's about looking for safer solutions for people until we can get them housed, recognizing that housing is where we want everyone to be."

She said Fresh Start is working to bring in sea cans that have been designed as mini shelters, providing individuals with a bed and electricity.

"They're not apartments, they are literally insulated, heated sheds where they can stay and [it] is safer," said Vautour.

She said the next step is to give these individuals access to supported housing and offer resources to help them get back on their feet.

With files from Rhythm Rathi