Fire at North Portland homeless camp leaves 1 dead


3 people have died in makeshift shelter fires since the start of 2021, firefighters say

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A man died after being severely burned in a tent fire Tuesday morning near Portland’s Piedmont neighborhood, according to Portland Fire & Rescue.

The 27-year-old man was inside a makeshift sheltering structure beneath an overpass at North Vancouver Avenue and North Columbia Boulevard — an area where many houseless people reside.

According to PF&R, a fire broke out just before 7 a.m. First responders found the man with third-degree burns covering his body and quickly took him to a hospital.

No other injuries were reported.

Jason Barber lives near where the fire broke out and knew the man who was killed. He said a propane leak ignited a loft area where the victim was living.

“When I got down there, there was a propane tank spouting flames. I threw it in the river,” said Barber. He said those who live in the area usually burn things in a separate burn barrel.

Details regarding the fire’s damage to the surrounding area were not immediately available. Investigators said the fire was likely caused by “an improvised, propane fed heating device that ignited materials used to insulate the space from the cold temperatures.”

“We’re going into a really cold season so we’re expecting to see more of this. We’re desperately trying to figure out a way to prevent these tragedies,” said Portland Fire & Rescue Lt. Rich Chatman.

Chatman said the number of fires at tents and makeshift shelters is increasing along with the number of houseless structures on the streets of Portland. He said three people died in 2020 from similar fires and three have already died since the start of 2021.

“Our concern right now is some of our coldest days are ahead so to go into it now with as many injuries and fatalities as we’ve seen concerns us very much,” said Chatman.

City Commissioner Dan Ryan released the city’s Street to Stability Action Plan this week and said a 2019 study found there were more than 2,000 homeless people in Multnomah County — the highest number in the region’s history.

Read the full action plan below.

Jo Ann Hardesty, the city commissioner in charge of PF&R, released the following statement after the deadly fire on Tuesday:

“I am heartbroken to learn that a community member experiencing houselessness has died while trying to tend to their most basic needs of shelter and warmth. This is precisely why we need to urgently move forward with sanctioned camping, tiny home villages, safe RV parking, and other forms of low barrier, transitional housing that provides a higher degree of safety and stability for those currently sleeping on our streets. Moving these projects forward will make Portland safer for everyone. We can and must do better.”

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