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Portland Fire works with Street Roots, homeless individuals to mitigate fires involving tents and abandoned buildings

In the last year, Portland Fire says 40 structure fires were caused by houseless individuals either living in - or camping near - those buildings.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the last month or so, Portland Fire and Rescue (PF&R) has responded to at least three large fires at abandoned buildings, or camps nearby, where houseless individuals are seeking shelter. 

In late September, an abandoned warehouse at Southeast 9th and Alder collapsed in an overnight fire. Portland Fire officials said they had responded to other fires in the same building over the past few years, including one as recently as last July. No one was injured, and fire officials added the warehouse often served as an "unsanctioned homeless shelter."

"This particular fire did have transient people coming in and out of it," Terry Foster with PF&R said. "It had a history of that... it was an unsafe building ... [and in] particular had issues with holes in the floors and stairwells."

Just two days later, a tent caught fire at Southeast 21st and Powell. The fire spread to nearby apartment buildings, and no one was injured. 

And last weekend, a house at Southeast 28th and Powell was totally destroyed. Neighbors who flagged down KGW reporters at the scene immediately blamed squatters.

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"It was just horrible. The whole thing is, a lot of people, not just me, have been calling the city for years about this building about the possible damage so far about the homeless people breaking in," neighbor Micaela Kennedy said. 

Now, it's important to note people seeking shelter and protection in abandoned buildings is part of a housing crisis that doesn't seem to let up. But the current state of affairs is fire.

According to Portland Fire, 40 structure fires have been traced back to homeless individuals camping inside of those buildings or near them. That's a large increase from the prior year, which only saw 16 of those fires. 

Tent fires have also dramatically increased, by 130%. 

RELATED: Brookings ordinance places restrictions on churches serving food to homeless people

Firefighters are working overtime to spread the word to homeless individuals about fire danger. They also work with Street Roots and other organizations who visit camps. 

"There is a lot of fire stupidity,' said Seantos McDonald, who lives in a tent near the SE 9th and Alder fire. "I've seen a lot of it. For some reason, there's a person who likes to just melt all the port-a-potties available to them, which I find just painfully stupid ...  A lot of people, their cars are burning. I don't know if they're just keeping them on for heat and then something goes or you know, I've seen people repairing their cars and all of a sudden, explosions happen too. But there's been a lot of cars burning up. And there are people who just, you know, they'll just burn anything."

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