'Have a little compassion': Tent goes up in flames in Beacon Hill Park
VICTORIA -- Emotions are running high after firefighters were called to Beacon Hill Park on Tuesday for reports of a tent fire in the area.
The Victoria Fire Department’s acting captain, Ian Thom, says that multiple reports of the fire came in Tuesday morning. Fortunately, no one was in the tent at the time and no injuries have been reported.
“We initiated an attack, knocked it down pretty quickly and there was no spread to the bushes,” said Thom. “Thank goodness that no one was around or in the tent.”
Victoria resident Peter Humphreys, who lives next to the park, says he started watching the area when he noticed smoke rising from the tent.
“Even before there was some flames there was smoke, and then next thing you know, 'Poof,' the flames came in,” he told CTV News Tuesday.
While Humphreys says he’s glad no one was injured in the fire, he adds that he’s saddened by the current state of Beacon Hill Park.
The Victoria resident says he’s lived in his building at 200 Douglas St. since it was first constructed and that the area has declined significantly since he first moved in.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” he said. “I never thought I’d move into a place like this with such a beautiful front yard [he said referring to Beacon Hill Park] and see some of the things I’ve seen at three o’clock in the morning.”
At the same time, campers at the park are urging everyone to be compassionate, especially as someone’s belongings and only shelter were destroyed in the tent fire.
“Well the guy actually was a fairly decent guy,” said a camper named Richard. “If you were to go over there you’d see he had a rake. He raked the area up, there was no garbage around his site and everybody who thinks this is all negative – it isn’t.”
He says a group of homeless campers have been organizing regular cleanups at the park, something he says most park visitors overlook.
“I myself was called scum while I had a biohazard container given to me by a health nurse and had rubber gloves, picking up used hypodermic needles with blood in them so nobody would get injured,” he said.
“It really hurts when I don’t do drugs, I’ve worked all my life, I’m 65 years old, and I’m told to get out of your 'effing' park because I’m garbage,” he said.
Richard says he was born in Victoria and attended schools at South Park and near Beacon Hill.
“It’s really disheartening for me to be told to get the hell out of a park where I grew up,” he said. “I love the community but I wish people would have a little compassion. I have compassion for what you have to go through so I’d like to see compassion (in return).”
Richard says he worked as a licenced electrician for most of his life and up to roughly three years ago, he was making more than $100,000 a year. He adds that some campers at Beacon Hill Park, like him, are not struggling with addiction, though it is often assumed.
“For me, it’s almost like being racist. I’m not even sure I should say it but it’s like saying that every Mexican is lazy and every Black’s a thief. That’s not true, and not every homeless person is a drug addict and a bad person,” he said. “Let’s not categorize people, that’s all I’m saying.”
To improve things at the park, Richard believes that moving all campers onto the gravel soccer area of Beacon Hill Park would be safer for both unsheltered people and the surrounding community. If a similar tent fire were to take place on the gravel field, it would not be able to spread as easily, he said.
When CTV News asked Humphrey what he thought could be done to improve the situation, he said he’d like to see a complete overhaul of Victoria’s city council and mayor positions.
“Get rid of the mayor and council, except Geoff (Young), and then be stronger people. Do what you’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
As of Tuesday, the Victoria Fire Department said that the cause of the fire was still under investigation. The department’s acting captain is encouraging everyone to be safe when living in camping conditions and to be mindful of cooking equipment like stoves.