SEATTLE - A homeless camper trying to stay warm accidentally started a fire in his RV in Seattle, according to firefighters, which led to the early removal for the entire homeless camp.
The fire began around 4:00 a.m. Thursday underneath the western portion of the Spokane Street Viaduct, where a large homeless camp of tents and RVs has been growing over the last several months.
A spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department said the RV owner started up his RV to run the heater, but a fire started in the engine compartment.
It spread quickly through the motor home and was fueled by gasoline lines running under the RV.
The fire ignited a nearby RV owned by the same man.
“Once he turned the engine over and the fire started he couldn't do nothing after that,” said Troy Humphrey, who tried to put out the fire. “I tried, if I had two more fire extinguishers I could have gotten it out.”
Both RV’s and the possessions inside were a total loss.
But, the flames were burning very hot and directly touching the concrete viaduct above.
The Seattle Department of Transportation inspected the bridge and found no structural damage.
Recently, a portion of an interstate highway running through Atlanta collapsed after a large fire broke out underneath it.
As a precaution, the city will be assessing low bridge structures around the city with homeless camps underneath and will prioritize efforts to address immediate hazards.
“We remained concerned about any hazard with our structures,” said Chris Potter, Operations Director for Seattle’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services. “We are going through, we are accessing hazards associated with them.”
But, the fire has also had an unwanted ripple effect for the camp known to the homeless as "Clowntown."
Over the next 10 days, the city says the camp will be cleared of all people and structures and work zone perimeter will be established to allow SDOT and Seattle City Light to perform repair and maintenance unrelated to the fire.
Outreach workers and police assigned to the city’s Navigation team were in the camp most of the day Thursday, encouraging people to find shelter or offer shelter alternatives.
“I hope they don’t do this, we have no place to go,” said Humphrey, who is also known as the camp’s electrician. He also lives in an RV.
The city said it’s beginning to assess the working conditions of RV’s and other vehicles in the camp.
“What we are looking to do is to no longer have camping of any kind under the Spokane Street Viaduct,” said Potter.
He said the fire accelerated a cleanup of the camp that has been planned for some time.