A fire involving a single tent at a homeless encampment on Garden Street in Saint John left one man with minor injuries related to smoke inhalation, according to Staff Sgt. Sean Rocca of the Saint John Police.
Rocca said the call came in at 7:13 a.m. Friday and Saint John Fire responded. Paramedics treated the 36-year-old man at the scene but he was not taken to hospital.
It's unclear how the fire started. Rocca said the fire is still under investigation.
According to Melanie Vautour, the executive director of Fresh Start Services For Women, tent sites are especially vulnerable to fire and there were several tent fires last year as well.
She said with cold weather approaching, people living in tents are often left with fire as their only means of staying warm. But tents aren't flame resistant or retardant so the use of fire is risky, she said.
"Those are real risks that are coming and will increase as the weather continues to get colder," said Vautour.
Her organization tries to help people who are homeless by providing sleeping bags, tents, tarps and hand and toe warmers. She said while their long-term goal is to reduce the number of people living in tents or on the streets in Saint John, in the short-term, they try to reduce the risks they face in the winter.
Vautour said tent fires are not new to Saint John. She said there was one last week with no injuries and a serious one last year that left one person with burns on their feet and several others with smoke inhalation.
A tent encampment fire in Fredericton in January of this year destroyed three tents and caused five people to lose all their belongings. The fire, which was started by a propane heater, prompted Fredericton Police to encourage people living in encampments to seek warmth in shelters instead.
While risks from fires and heaters are serious, Vautour said so are risks from exposure to the cold.
She said colder weather opens up the risk for frostbite, skin breakdown and infection. And she has seen cases of severe frostbite in some clients.
Between fire and frostbite, she said her organization saw more 10 of their clients injured last year. She said this doesn't include what other agencies might have seen.
"There's a lot of concern for us for individuals sleeping outside," said Vautour. "It's really what drives us to keep pushing forward and find solutions to get people safely and adequately housed, which is of course, as everyone knows, a challenge right now."