Portland targets homeless wildfire risks

Multnomah County

The City Council approves protocols for firefighters to work with the homeless and community groups as the threat increases.

COURTESY CITY OF PORTLAND – An example of a hot spot risk map.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland firefighters will work with the homeless and community groups to reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic fire accidents caused by people living outdoors, under new protocols approved by the City Council Wednesday, July 28.

The protocols were prepared by a team headed by the Portland Fire Marshal and sponsored by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire & Rescue. They are a response to the increasing number of camp and tent fires in the city, and the risk they pose in such extremely hazardous areas as Forest Park given the drought and early high temperatures.

“The increasing pace of climate change creates large risks for the city’s forested areas. While Portland Fire & Rescue is working to increase wildfire awareness for residents living within the wildland-urban interface, unauthorized camping in our designated wildfire hazard zones poses an acceptably high threat of potentially catastrophic wildfire incidents. A wildfire in these forested areas would not only place the lives of the houseless community at risk, but also the lives of residents who recreate in the forest and live in the developed areas that surround them,” the accompanying report said.

COURTESY CITY OF PORTLAND – A draft example of a wildfire risk map.

Hardesty said the protocols are a humane response to the increased fire threat caused by climate change.

The protocols say firefighters will first work to educate campers about the risk when they find them in such areas, either after being notified of their presence by the public or responding to fires. If the campers are hostile or start another fire, firefighters will notify community groups, such as the nonprofit Street Roots homeless advocacy organization, which will follow up with them. If the campers continue to be hostile or start another fire, efforts will be made to move them to a safer location.

“Commissioner Hardesty’s office and the Fire Marshal have met with several community organizations to discuss these policies and their rollout. While this will impact some houseless community members, it is our hope that through clarity and outreach efforts that we will get broad voluntary compliance among houseless community members camping in dangerous areas,” read the accompanying impact statement.

As part of the protocols, the fire bureau will prepare and release a map of the hazardous areas in the city before each fire season. It will be adjusted as conditions change.

The protocols and more information can be found here.

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