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Vancouver firefighters extinguished 14 fires in 24 hours

In one case, there was a fire behind a burning building, which firefighters tried to extinguish

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This week, Vancouver firefighters responded to five major fires, at least seven dumpster fires and more than 250 other calls in 24 hours.

The union representing the city’s firefighters said the high volume of calls at the moment highlights the need for more resources, particularly in the city center.

“Today’s conditions are unsustainable,” said Lee Lax, vice president of IAFF Local 18.

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“We have felt this for years,” he added.

In a 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday, the Vancouver Fire Department responded to 14 fires.

Five of the fires resulted from “heavy smoke, heavy flames” and “an urgent need to keep people in or in a high-risk building,” said Capt. Matthew Trudeau, a fire department spokesman.

“We’re seeing an average of about 10 to 12 fires a day, sometimes over 14 fires a day,” Trudeau said. “The reason this one was different was because of the intensity of the fires.”

In one incident, crews were called to a guesthouse or SRO at 1025 Granville St. – this was the fourth call to this building this year – to intervene in connection with a fire that spread from the bathroom to the second and third floors. While they were putting out the fire, another one broke out behind the building. No one was injured.

Firefighters also extinguished fires in two skyscrapers in the city center. In one case, from the roof of a building at 1477 Continental St. there was thick smoke and fire. Following a fire at 1058 Nelson St. five units suffered water and sprinkler damage and nine people had to be evacuated.

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The number of fires that the service had to fight is constantly increasing. Last year was the busiest year since at least 2016, with firefighters responding to 4,309 fires, a 19% increase from 2022 and more than double the number of fires in 2016, according to department estimates.

Trudeau said it’s “not unusual for wildfires to increase by 15 to 20 percent every year.”

“It’s definitely a steady slope,” he said.

Lax said the city’s commitment to hire three additional firefighters by July 1 would allow the service to operate an existing ladder truck 24 hours a day at one of the city’s busiest fire stations. Currently, staff at the West End fire station are split between the ladder truck and the emergency medical team, resulting in the ladder truck being out of service “a significant portion of the time.”

However, Fire Chief Karen Fry wrote in an email Friday that “recruitment funding will not occur until October of this year.”

In addition to the structure fires, Vancouver firefighters were called to more than a half-dozen dumpster fires during this busy 24-hour stretch. Several of them appeared to have been set up on purpose. In one case, two garbage containers and a mattress were found burning in an alley.

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Trudeau said the number and intensity of the fires has “definitely put a strain on resources” despite the recent hiring of 33 new firefighters, approved by city council in 2023 at a cost of $4.2 million.

“During the intense 24-hour period from June 11 to 12, crews were brought in from across the city to assist,” Trudeau said, noting that crews responded to fires in the area from UBC to Commercial Drive and throughout downtown.

—With the Douglas Quan files

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@njgriffiths
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