Freezing temperature putting strain on services in Metro Vancouver

The sidewalk in a Vancouver park mostly covered with ice yet.

Freezing overnight temperatures expected to last at least until Sunday evening, the chill continue to make life difficult for many in Metro Vancouver.

The sustained period of cold weather also causing a strain even for city services and for those who used to being outside.

Higher risk of fires

In an average month, Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services (VFRS) receives 1,198 calls — but they’ve already faced more than 1,650 so far in December.
Vancouver firefighters, already stretched because of the overdose crisis in the Downtown East side, have been tending to more fire calls than usual this month.

“It could be because this is one of the more prolonged cold stretches we’ve had in a few years … it might mean people are using more space heaters,” said Jonathan Gormick, public information officer with VFRS.

He’s warning the public not to overload their electrical systems by plugging in too many device on the same circuit, and to make sure any space heaters being used are CSA or ULC-approved.

Homeless at risk

The largest fire in the Metro Vancouver region on Tuesday was at a homeless camp in Chilliwack, near Yale Road and Alexander Avenue.

Officials say it started in or around a tent, and there was significant damage. However, nobody was injured, and shelter arrangements have been offered to those affected.

Chilliwack fire

A fire breaks out in a homeless camp in Chilliwack.

Close to 200 extra shelter spaces have been opened up in Vancouver alone, but Judy Graves, the retired City of Vancouver advocate for the homeless, says there will always be some people who choose to stay on the streets even on bitterly cold nights.

“People who remain on the streets, even when we have the extra shelters open, often have social anxiety disorders. They’re not able to handle the noise and the number of people in a shelter,” she said.

“This is the time, you know, where people are in your neighbourhood, to go out and make sure they have hot coffee, soup, that they can get a bit of respite. If you have extra blankets, even to go out and put an extra blanket over someone when they’re sleeping, is a real gift right now.”

Outdoor workers hoping for a reprieve

For those who work outside though, they have no choice but to bundle up and bear it.

Michael Bullock is a carpenter. He doesn’t skimp when it comes to clothing during a cold snap. “I got a neck warmer, long sleeve, two T-shirts, a vest and a hoodie on top.”

He says last week he was wearing two extra jackets, and that layers are key when coping with the cold.

Though it’s been sunny, the cold temperatures make it tough for Bullock and others who work outside to do their jobs.

Greg Armstrong leads bicycle tours around Vancouver. He says having a full stomach is essential for him.

“Eat well. Don`t go hungry,” he said. “You get even colder when you’re hungry.”

He also recommends wearing a thin base layer for anyone cycling through the cold snap.

Park Board struggling to clean sidewalks

Vancouver sidewalks snow

A number of sidewalks in Vancouver area are not being shoveled, despite the threat of a fine from the city.

Vancouver property owners and businesses are responsible to clear snow and ice from their properties by 10 a.m. PT the morning following a snowfall, but some public spaces around town are still covered with ice.

On Wednesday, crews were working on the cemetery around East 41st Avenue and Fraser, but the sidewalks surrounding the site were still very slippery.

The sidewalk around Earles Park was almost completely covered, as snow covered the entire parameters of the park.

The Vancouver Park Board is responsible for clearing parks, and it says it is doing the best it can, but the continued cold snap makes it difficult.

“Cold temperatures have remained persistently below zero this week making it a challenge for crews to remove frozen, compacted snow in some areas until there is a thaw,” said Brian Quinn, Vancouver Park Board operations manager, in a statement.

If a resident sees an area that has snow,or ice they can report it to the 3-1-1 Contact Centre or by using the City’s app, VanConnect.