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'We have a responsibility to help these folks and make sure they don't burn': Growing concerns about HRM tent fires

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It's been an unsettling week for the homeless community in Halifax - and the people who love them.

No fewer than three fires have broken out in encampments since last Thursday, and there are fears there will be more as winter settles in.

"We have a responsibility to help these folks and keep them alive, and part of that is to make sure they don't burn," HRM Mayor Mike Savage told CTV News Monday.

"I'm very concerned about it."

A shed at the encampment in Victoria Park caught fire last Thursday.

On Sunday, a tent went up in flames in Dartmouth at the same encampment where a man's body was found earlier this month.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in either incident.

Back on the Halifax-side, another tent fire brought crews to Grand Parade Saturday morning.

Again, no one hurt, but another emotional kick for the man who lived there.

A homeless encampment in Grand Parade in downtown Halifax, with the HRM’s Christmas tree in the foreground. (Bruce Frisko/CTV Atlantic)

"The day of the event, I've never seen somebody that was so mortified and basically losing everything," site volunteer Stephen Wilsack told CTV News.

"Obviously, the event has been extremely traumatizing for him, (but) he's doing much better now," said Wilsack.

City crews were cleaning-up the fire damaged belongings including bedding and sleeping bags Monday, but the victim was hoping to salvage a few things like books before they finished.

A Christmas banner on a makeshift shelter on a boulevard near Victoria Park in Halifax. (Bruce Frisko/CTV Atlantic)

In Victoria Park, Noel Denny, originally from Eskasoni, was working in the high winds to repairs tears around the zipper of his tent with gaffer tape.

Denny insists he uses no heat source inside, but curls-up on a small sofa.

"I sleep on the couch. And an "L" couch, it keeps me warm on both sides, where it's very insulated, big time," he said.

Kathryn Jones Cleroux says she's grateful for a winter tent that was donated to her, but she's very careful about heat.

"They (propane heaters) are not supposed to be used in tents. You can die a lot of ways. I've got a carbon monoxide detector in my tent. I have a line that I bleed when I'm not using it. I turn it off before I go to sleep," she said.

"One night, I put a rock in the fire, heated it up, wrapped it in the blanket and brought it in the tent with me to bed and that was good."

The scattered remains of a campsite in Victoria Park in Halifax. (Bruce Frisko/CTV Atlantic)

Savage says the city is constantly consulting with the province to discuss options, including offering shelter in a large public building.

"We're looking for places indoors, but it's a provincial responsibility. That's the problem. I'm talking to the minister of community services on a regular basis. He's a very empathetic person. I know he wants to help. I know their staff wants to help. We can only do so much," said Savage, noting fire crews regularly visit encampments to share fire safety advice.

"We don't want people to die on the streets of Halifax. We don't want them to freeze to death, we don't want them to burn."

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