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Part of Lac La Biche's 'tent city' burns, with no injuries reported

Man-made homeless camp draws attention as shelter expands hours and occupancy

LAC LA BICHE - Lac La Biche County fire crews along with peace officers and RCMP were at the scene of a blaze in a makeshift "tent city" near the Vera M. Welsh Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. At about 4 p.m. thick black smoke was billowing from the area that is just metres from the downtown railway tracks.

Lac La Biche County's Protective Services Manager Superintendent Chris Clark described the location as a "man-made camp" and said the fire was quickly put out with no injuries reported.

Fire officials at the scenes said the fire was restricted to one part of the heavily wooded area that has recently seen the creation of cardboard and wooden structures, covered with tarps. Burning carpet was said to have caused the thick smoke. As fire crews worked to snuff out the smoldering carpet on the ground, a helicopter flew overhead looking for any hotspots as provincial fire bans remain in effect and the area's fire hazard currently sits at high.

Homeless issue

The camp, believed to be occupied by several homeless people from the region, has grown in the year since it first appeared. It now spans from the intersection of 105 Street, just east of the Independent Grocers to near the fence-line of elementary school on 103 Street.

The camp is an issue discussed by municipal officials and law enforcement. It is part of continuing discussions about homeless needs in the community. In recent weeks, the area's Out of the Elements Shelter has expanded its operations — and its location — to the old Lac La Biche curling rink on the Recreation Grounds. The shelter is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has current occupancy capacity for 15 residents.

Funding from COVID-related provincial grants are being used to maintain the shelter.