PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Last Thursday, residents in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood said a fear turned became a reality.
A hillside caught fire, coming yards away from homes. The fire was caught on video, and residents said it appears someone deliberately set fire to the area. They think the alleged arsonist came from someone staying in a nearby illegal homeless camp near Hazelnut Grove, a city-permitted, self-governed homeless camp on North Greeley near North Interstate.
“Pretty much as long as Hazelnut Grove has been their we have had spillover,” said Chris Trejbal, the chair of the neighborhood association.
Neighbors in Portland’s Overlook neighborhood on N Melrose say this fire was started by people living in a homeless camp nearby. They say they’ve asked the city to clean up the area for years and want action now. #KOIN6News pic.twitter.com/RDZRByY6uH— Velena Jones (@velenajones) August 14, 2018
“To have my worst fear realized was pretty emotional,” a resident, who didn’t want to be identified over fear of retaliation, said.
“To actually see someone light a torch and intentionally lay it down, toss it down in the tall dry grass and stand there, and watch it build, was something I did not expect to see.”
After the fire, the Overlook Neighborhood Association is calling on the city to move the Hazelnut Grove site and put in more safety measures to prevent fires from spreading.
“Everyone is kind of on edge giving how dry it is,” Trejbal said. “The next fire doesn’t have to be arson, it could be a cigarette bud thrown off the side of the road or dropped by a homeless person and suddenly this whole bluff goes up in flames.”
Portland Parks and Rec spokesman Mark Ross released a statement after the fire, saying they will determine if the land is theirs and then proceed.
On behalf of all of us at Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), we are thankful no homes were lost and everyone stayed safe. We are first working to ensure the land in question is indeed PP&R property. It very well may be, and if so, we will be discussing the situation with the Fire Bureau and with Portland Parks & Recreation staff to identify potential next steps. We must first have experts weigh in on if a fire break is indeed desired, what an effective one looks like, how it is to be established, and related logistics if such an effort is advised to be a helpful step.
Last month, PP&R staff cut back weeds in the area along a steep slope; and around two months ago the City cleaned debris from a nearby area where several people experiencing homelessness had established a campsite. Regardless of terrain, no Portland park or natural area is designed for people to live in.
Regardless of who owns the land, residents are concerned about the future based on things they’ve already seen.
“I know we have a homeless crisis and I am sympathetic to that as well,” the unidentified resident said, “but the solution is not to have actual tax paying citizens terrorized.
“This is just one incident that happens to be slightly scarier than some of the things that we see on a daily basis.”
The city posted notices informing illegal homeless campers to leave the area by this week.