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Homeless camp torched under the Vedder River bridge near Chilliwack

Volunteers told not to return to Sweltzer Creek camp given toxic fumes, charred trash
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Chaotic scene in the aftermath of fire. (Zeeshan Khan photo)

Cleanup volunteers were unable to return to a homeless camp on Sweltzer Creek near the Vedder River bridge Sunday morning because of a fire that torched the camp overnight.

There were no injuries, according to volunteers, but everyone was being advised to stay away from the site.

“No one got hurt as far we know but no volunteer should be going to the area because of toxic gases from burned items in the area today. We will keep everyone posted about plans for next weekend,” according to Zeeshan Khan with Streams Foundation Canada.

It’s not known how it started but the fire destroyed an illegal structure of some sort in the camp.

Aftermath of fire at camp on Sweltzer Creek under the Vedder Bridge. (Zeeshan Khan photo)
Aftermath of fire at camp on Sweltzer Creek under the Vedder Bridge. (Zeeshan Khan photo)

The morning after the fire the camp looked like a wasteland, surrounded by all kinds of tents, bikes, tarps, garbage and stolen items so close to the river.

This was the same camp where cleanup volunteers hauled 3,000 kilograms of trash from the site, filling nine truck loads, just the weekend before.

There is a huge environmental concern about the river being impacted by the toxic nature of this material in this location given its proximity to the Vedder River and the sensitive riparian zones.

“Please everyone file a report to the RAPP line and write your MLA and MP,” wrote Ross Aikenhead on Facebook, as one who has led the community cleanups across the region.

One of the ongoing problems with squatters and homeless camps on the Chilliwack and Vedder Rivers is the potential for environmental devastation, and this sort of incident gets no attention due to the lack of oversight or responsibility of any one government agency or ministry.

RELATED: Cleaning up squatters’ mess

Aikenhead and others have been reporting the issue to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO), the ministry responsible for stewardship on Crown land, and to other agencies, to no avail.

It was considered unsafe for volunteers on Sunday to go back to the area given the fumes and charred residues, so volunteers are looking to return next week to continue the site recovery.

Do you have something to add to this story, or a news tip? Email:
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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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