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Homeless fires on the rise

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:48 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -The equation is a simple one. Colder temperatures. A homeless population, increasing in size and looking for shelter and warmth in the wrong places. You get fires, more of them.

“In 2020 we had an increase of 125 percent,” says Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer. “We had a total of 365 transient fires. Currently year-to-date we have about 280. So we’re on track to hit that number again.”

In fact there have been 15 such fires in the last 13 days. Most like the one last night off Sutro Street are small and quickly extinguished. They can burn in a homeless camp out in the open on the river bank or in a vacant building, but each has dangerous, even deadly potential.

“Typically the actions to keep themselves warm once inside a vacant building can cause a structure fire and not only kill the person inside of it, but hurt our firefighters who respond.”

And, in a crowded encampment of tents, Palmer says, the danger is self evident.

“Most tents and tarps, most items that are used to make these homeless encampments are flammable. They’re not flame treated and a lot of times people will bring warming fires, cooking fires right into the tent or right next to the walls of the tent. And when they do catch fire, they tend to spread like wildfire.”

The cold temperatures themselves are dangerous and for those living out here the search for warmth is understandable. That and the very whack-a-mole nature of the homeless problem may cause some of us to look the other way when we see a homeless camp. Palmer says we shouldn’t.

“Give us a call. We will come and check it ou and we will shut it down. If it’s a person who needs help we will direct them to the resources they need.”

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