A fire Thursday in a Sahali cemetery believed to have been caused by human activity appears to highlight an issue raised last week by a Kamloops city councillor about problematic loitering in the area.
Kevin Cassidy, Kamloops Fire Rescue inspector, said one engine responded just before noon on Thursday to a report of a blaze in Hillside Cemetery on Notre Dame Drive. He said crews found a fire approximately 500 square feet in size behind the crematorium, on the north end of the cemetery.
“Our crews used a bumper preconnect on the front of the fire engine and approximately 400 gallons of water to extinguish the fire,” Cassidy said.
According to Cassidy, KFR determined the fire was caused by human activity. When asked whether a homeless camp might have caused the blaze, Cassidy refused to speculate.
A video sent to Castanet Kamloops from Roberta Nechvatal, owner of Eat Clean Express and Meal Prep — a business located on McGill Road near the cemetery — shows a cloud of smoke rising from the grassy area at the north end of the property. Sirens can be heard in the distance.
Nechvatal said she noticed the smoke at about 11:45 a.m. The fire had been put out by fire crews by about 12:15 p.m.
Concerns from residents about people loitering in the cemetery were brought forward by a city councillor during a council meeting on May 10.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly asked staff what protocols are in place to “keep the cemetery clean, and a place to respect and reflect for the people that are there, and the families of those people.”
Byron McCorkell, the city’s community and protective services director, said there have been concerns around security at the cemetery for a long time.
“There's more people concerned because they know there's a shelter there, but we’ve long dealt with folks using the cemetery for reasons other than to visit their loved ones,” McCorkell said, referencing Merit Place, a temporary homeless shelter set up in the former Greyhound bus depot across the street from the cemetery.
McCorkell said Community Services Officers move through the area on a “regular basis,” and security cameras in the cemetery help security staff respond if need be.
“We also have park staff working during the day in the facility, and if they come upon something, they call the CSO’s and they respond," he said.
"So basically, we do the best we can to ensure that users aren't interrupted from what they're there to [do], to memorialize people.”
A homeless camp was to blame for a nearby grassfire — in a gulley off the Summit Connector in the Thompson Rivers University area — that sent a plume of smoke into the sky over the Easter weekend, investigators said.