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Kamloops society makes changes after youth in care started fire in duplex

Kamloops Fire Rescue was on the scene of the duplex fire around 10:30 p.m., May 8, 2023.
Kamloops Fire Rescue was on the scene of the duplex fire around 10:30 p.m., May 8, 2023.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

A Kamloops non-profit that helps find accommodations for homeless kids is taking added precautions after a youth in care started a fire that destroyed part of a duplex.

The North Shore fire was restricted to just half the duplex but the neighbour calls it a "miracle" she and her family weren't hurt. She said it should have been preventable within the supervised residential care home.

Active Care Youth and Adult Services rented the duplex to provide a home for youths where a number of clients have rotated through in the last few years, she said.

Some have been troublesome, but the most recent tenant burnt sage inside, despite complaints to employees working there, the neighbour told She requested anonymity because she fears repercussions.

"Our house is fine. Somehow, by some miracle, our house is fine. Had the fire started in any other room, it probably would have been destroyed, but we got very lucky," said the neighbour, who is pregnant and has two young toddlers.

The May 8 fire was in a duplex near Jasper and Alberni avenues. She awoke to firefighters knocking on the door on May 8, telling them to evacuate because of a fire next door. The family quickly left and hoped the fire wouldn't spread to their side of the duplex. Kamloops Fire Rescue managed to keep the fire and smoke damage restricted to Active Care's side.

"She's always lighting sage, ... and we would always smell smoke coming through our walls and stuff. We thought it was cigarette smoke," she said. "We would make complaints and they would do nothing about it."

She said neighbours were walking by the night before the fire and spotted an open flame in the window. They notified staff who explained it was just the client lighting sage.

The next night, the upstairs of the house was burned.

Active Care wouldn't confirm any of the details shared by the neighbour, including whether it has a new policy not to share walls with neighbours. However, the neighbour said she received a personal visit from the non-profit where she got an apology and an explanation of the new rule.

Director of operations for Active Care John Ramsay wouldn't comment on details about the fire.

"It's important for all of us at Active Care that we are a positive community member," he said. "No matter what happened here, we will always review our impact on the community."

It's not clear whether the new policy includes every home Active Care uses or whether it's for specific clients.

"Active Care told us they are implementing a new policy where they will not share walls with any member of the community anymore because it's too dangerous," the neighbour said.

She said the non-profit "rectified" the situation, and she believed their explanation and apology was "genuine."

Her family was able to go back into the home, but the neighbour is concerned for both neighbours that could be affected near Active Care homes and for the clients in their care.

Ramsay said the safety of the neighbourhood, clients and Active Care is a top priority.

"We take all the steps necessary to ensure the safety of the community we work in," Ramsay said. "Regarding any particulars with this specific fire, I cannot comment on... The homes are always suitable for the clients that we have, and we just have to make sure we have the proper safety plans in place."

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