Large fire burns homeless encampment in Downtown Fresno

August 11, 2013 2:44:30 PM PDT
A huge fire at a homeless encampment in downtown Fresno burned several tents and injured some pets. In recent days, fire officials say they've responded to several fires at homeless shelters in the area. And officials are worried this could be a trend.

The scene was chaotic. The flames quickly spread through the alley of a homeless shelter on California Avenue and Los Angeles Street. "We just heard something pop, we went outside and there was already flames," said 'Chaparra,' one of the homeless tenants in the encampment.

Fire officials say they got a call of a trash fire around 12:30 Sunday afternoon. When they responded, the flames had grown more intense as it tore through the encampment. "Probably started as a small one. But all those structures intertwined with each other and it just ran the whole length of the alley," said Capt. Ken Mehrmann with the Fresno Fire Department.

And the fire left many frantically looking for what to save. One woman ran straight into the direction of the fire, searching for her 4-legged companion. Some relief moments later when she was reunited with the small dog but the same could not be said for other animals. "He was tied up inside and I guess the owner had a chance to run away," said Chaparra. Her neighbor's dog had severe burns and was taken to the S.P.C.A. to be checked out.

While no people were injured, the fire came feet away from several homes. "It's been happening for the whole year and a half," said nearby resident Alicia Jacoby. Jacoby said this was the third fire she's seen in the area in recent days.

Last week, there was a fire at a homeless encampment on E Street and Ventura Avenue. One person was arrested on suspicion of arson.

The homeless camps are some of the several the city plans to shut down next month over concerns of increased criminal activity. "We understand the city is about to embark on a cleanup effort down here and we're looking forward to that. We think it's quite needed," said Mehrmann.

Despite the encampment closures, some residents don't see a solution to this growing problem. "They're just going to rebuild and come right back and nobody is going to do anything about it," said Jacoby.

Fire officials are working to see how many people were actually affected in Sunday's fire. The cause is still under investigation.


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