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Woman sustains burns in encampment fire in Fort York

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A woman suffered burns after a fire broke out at an encampment in the city’s Fort York neighbourhood Tuesday evening.

Crews were called to 250 Fort York Boulevard shortly after 5:30 p.m. for a fire in the ravine area.

Acting Platoon Chief David Quinn told CP24 that the woman had a woodstove to keep her warm, but it "got away" from her.

"It got to a dumpster set. And what we had beside there appears to be some sort of flammable liquids, it exploded," Quinn said.

Crews arrived and encountered a substantial fire. They were able to knock it down shortly after.

Meanwhile, the woman sustained burn injuries during the incident and was treated by paramedics at the scene. Her injuries are considered minor.

Quinn said encampment fires have been an "unreal problem" in the city.

"What's happening is, as a result of the encampments, they're bringing in combustible material, propane cylinders, flammable liquids to keep warm," the acting platoon chief said, adding that as the weather gets colder, he believes "this thing is gonna get a little bit worse before it gets better."

Last week, the city cleared an encampment in Kensington Market, citing public safety concerns over the combustible materials at the site. Nine people accepted the city's offer of shelter space with wraparound services.

Quinn encouraged encampment residents to use the city's shelter program to find a place to stay warm.

However, the city's shelter system is already overcrowded. In October, officials released its winter shelter plan, which many advocates called 'atrociously inadequate.'

The plan includes adding up to 180 new shelter spaces by reducing the lateral bed separation at select shelters, activating 170 spaces at four warming centres when the temperature dips to -5 degrees Celsius and opening a 24-hour winter respite site with a capacity of 40 people.

On Tuesday, three warming centres (75 Elizabeth St., 15 Olive Avenue and 885 Scarborough Golf Club Road) opened as the temperature was expected to drop to -5 degrees Celsius overnight.

Outreach worker Lorraine Lam said that instead of using fire concerns as a reason to displace encampment residents, officials should provide them with fire safety resources to address the matter.

"We know that there are fires that happen among people who have housing. Christmas trees – we don't ban Christmas trees, right? We don't make people stop using stoves. Instead, we offer preventative information and resources so people can make decisions as they live their lives," Lam said.

"And I think we need to apply that same application of fire safety to people who are living outside, who are doing the best they can, and honestly, they're surviving in ways that I have no idea how they're doing it."

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