John Sexton at Haut Hair, Homeless camps now account for half of all fires in Portland: 'It's not sustainable'
I’ve written about this topic before but it’s not one that has gotten much national attention. Earlier this year, KOMO News reported that Seattle firefighters had responded to 450 homeless camp fires in a little over three months. That made for an average of five such fires a day.
This problem isn’t limited to Seattle. Today Willamette Week reports that roughly half of all fires in Portland begin in or near one of the city’s estimated 700 homeless camps. The captain of one Portland firehouse says the pace, now about six such fires a day, is not sustainable.Nearly half of all fires in Portland now start in or near houseless camps—at least 2,048 last year, according to Portland Fire & Rescue data. It’s a remarkable number, given how five years ago, fires among unhoused Portlanders were hardly a blip.Some of the fires are accidental, caused by homeless people using propane to cook food or to warm their tents. People who smoke drugs and then nod may not notice when their heater starts a fire. And then some of the fires are intentional, either to burn garbage or just because someone is mentally ill. Firefighters showing up at these fires have no idea what they are walking into.
Today, there are an average of six a day…
The blazes have killed at least nine unhoused people in the past four years, one-third of Portland’s fire fatalities. Homeless people have been injured and lost possessions and loved ones.
“We don’t mind going on dangerous calls—we’re here to do that,” says Capt. Mike McGowan of North Portland’s Station 8 firehouse, which stands among the city’s worst-hit areas. “But five or six houseless fires in the middle of the night is too much. It’s fatiguing to go on the same type of call over and over, with no end in sight. It’s not sustainable.”Firefighters say they’ve stumbled onto booby traps, territorial people suffering from mental illness, and a semi-automatic rifle partly melted by a blaze.But it’s not just firefighters and the homeless themselves that are endangered. These homeless camps are often set up near homes or businesses who are in danger of being engulfed if a fire isn’t stopped quickly enough.
“I never thought we’d need ballistics vests, but we do now,” McGowan says.
They voted poorly, but tomorrow they get another chance.