Fire at Oakland homeless camp destroys 15 to 20 dwellings

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A fire early this afternoon at an East Oakland homeless camp that's been plagued by a series of problems didn't injure anyone but destroyed 15 to 20 dwellings there, an Oakland fire official said.

The fire was reported at East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue at 12:28 p.m. today and was controlled at 1:13 p.m., according to Oakland fire Capt. Chris Foley.

Firefighters still have to do "extensive work" to make sure the fire stays out but "the immediate danger is contained," Foley said.

The dwellings that were destroyed included tents and wooden lean-tos, according to Foley.

Oakland fire officials and the Red Cross are working to make shelter arrangements for people who've been displaced by the blaze but so far only nine people have asked for assistance, Foley said.

Plumes of thick black smoke could be seen for miles. Those who lived at the encampment said they grabbed what they could and headed for safety. Some lost everything they had. 

"Scared and nervous. I tried to grab the dog. I didn't care about anything but the puppy," said fire Victim Sao Ketok. 

Fire victim Erick Thomas said he lost, "Everything I had, everything. I just got the clothes on my back. I just had washed clothes and hung them up." 

As many as 30 Oakland firefighters responded to the fire. It took them less than an hour to get things under control. Officials said the fire is considered suspicious. 

Crews had to be extra careful because there were multiple dangerous accelerants within the encampment. Firefighters pulled out multiple propane tanks and that's just a small amount of what was inside the fire.

"The encampment is always very hazardous for the first responders. There's hazardous materials in there compressed gas cylinders aerosol cans," Oakland Fire Deputy Chief Nick Luby said. 

"It's tragedy on top of tragedy. Not only are people displaced and homeless, but you got stuff like this that's making it harder," Thomas said. 

Assistant to Oakland City Administrator Joe DeVries said this encampment was just approved to be next on the list for their community cabin project. The money for the encampment was just approved Tuesday. 

The encampment is slated to be cleared before the end of the year. The city plans on moving its residents 10 blocks away. The emergency shelters are said to have restrooms and access to health services. 

"We look at encampments and we look at safety problems and try to address those as we manage the crisis. But the fact is getting people out of these encampments and getting these encampments closed down is really the only way to make them safe," said DeVries.  

A fire at the homeless camp in the early morning hours of Sept. 11 displaced 37 people who were living there.

No one was injured in that blaze but firefighters who responded to it found the body of a man who apparently had been dead for several days. A dog also perished. 

On Oct. 22 51-year-old Marcus Haynes was fatally shot at the camp.