Homeless Woman Burns to Death: Vancouver

Woman's body discovered in burning shopping cart

VANCOUVER — A 47-year-old Abbotsford, B.C. woman has died after trying to stay warm in a shopping cart in downtown Vancouver early Friday morning.

19/12/2008 CTV News/ctvbc.ca

Her body was discovered between after 4:30 a.m. at the corner of Davie Street and Hornby Street.

Vancouver Police spokesperson Const. Jana McGuiness says officers approached the woman -- known as Tracey -- at least three times, offering to take her to a nearby shelter. Police believe she was trying to keep warm with a candle or heater and her blankets caught fire.

Police don't know why the woman refused to go to a shelter, but said she was "annoyed and argumentative" when approached by officers for the last time around 12:30 a.m.
"She wanted to be left alone," said McGuiness. "I find that hard to believe given that it's minus 10 C, but we have to respect her privacy and independence."

McGuiness says shortly after 4:30 a.m. a passenger in a taxi travelling through the intersection of Davie St. and Hornby St. saw a figure engulfed in flames inside the structure, and called 911 but when firefighters arrived it was too late to save the woman.

Calvin Petrie was inside a nearby coffee shop when he was alerted to the fire by another homeless person.

"He was covering himself with a pink wool blanket and was totally ecstatic and anxious and frantic," Petrie said. "He said there's a person on fire in a makeshift shelter."
Police are now trying to determine what happened between the last time they approached her shortly after midnight and the time of her death.

At this point police are calling the incident a cold weather-related death.

New Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says this event is even more tragic because a shelter that accommodates shopping carts is set to open tomorrow night.

In January, Darrell Mickasko died and a woman was severely burned when their portable stove exploded as they used it for warmth while sheltering in a Vancouver alley.

Mickasko's death is said to have motivated Robertson in his outreach work with the homeless, including the opening of 200 new emergency shelter beds in B.C. this month.

With files from The Canadian Press