Vancouver could soon ban camping in areas vulnerable to wildfires

Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 9:23 PM PDT
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VANCOUVER Wash. (KPTV) - A change to a Vancouver city code could soon mean people experiencing homelessness can no longer live or camp in areas prone to wildfires.

The current ordinance chapter is named “camping” but another change would expand that to “outside habitation and camping,” which the City Manager said in a staff report would focus more on the behaviors of those who are homeless, rather than just those who camp recreationally.

One of the areas of concern is the Burnt Bridge Creek trail system.

“When I do go through here, there’s often fires that are burning. I ride both through the encampments and up the hill and it’s usually in the evenings when I see them,” AnnMarie Haldeman, who bikes along the trail frequently, said.

The City Manager sent a staff report to the mayor and city council saying steep slopes in the area paired with wind could cause wildfires along the trail - not only endangering campers but neighbors and their property, too.

The manager said it’s especially dangerous because there’s little access to a water supply and the fire department has seen a 600% increase in outdoor fires since 2016.

Haldeman said she’s concerned about the fire danger but wants better conditions for those experiencing homelessness.

“I do think it’s an issue. I also think that just people being able to have safe places to live if they are homeless. They’re trying to cook outdoors, they don’t have facilities to use,” she said.

If passed, the city’s Homeless Assistance and Resources Team will be able to clear out camps in those areas vulnerable to wildfires.

There will be a second reading of the ordinance next Monday, July 18, followed by a public hearing. That’s when the council will decide whether they want to approve the changes.