Multiple fires under investigation at San Jose homeless encampment

It was one fire after another Sunday afternoon in San Jose.

Two small fires erupted at a homeless encampment by the San Jose airport Sunday. Seven people were displaced by the fires, but hundreds more living at the encampment are being told by the city that they need to clear out of the area in the coming days and months.

Around 12 p.m., flames burned through a vehicle and personal possessions at the encampment. Just before 2 p.m., a second fire within the encampment flared up, sending a column of thick black smoke into the sky.

Mike Bardo was out grabbing a bite to eat that afternoon when a neighbor called to tell him his makeshift tent and belongings were on fire. He came back to find everything he owned was incinerated.

"I'm signed up hopefully with the city, or HomeFirst, whoever is doing the housing. You know, hopefully, this can accelerate things because I need some help right now," Bardo said. 

He knelt to pet his dog, looking at the charred spot where their home had been.

The San Jose Fire Department contacted the Red Cross to assist him and others displaced by the fires, according to Brad Cloutier, a captain with SJFD said.

"We come to this area pretty frequently because there are a lot of people here, like I said, a lot of vegetation. But we're working to see if we can figure out what the cause of it was today," Cloutier said.

Scott Largent, a homeless advocate who lives in his RV parked at the encampment, says the city has fliers out, warning some people in the area they'll need to move soon. 

He thinks that's changed the atmosphere among people turning to the encampment as their primary shelter.

He says some people were notified last week to vacate a portion of the encampment, so he believes they're moving into other areas of the encampment, and clashing with people already settled in.

"People get territorial out here, in a way, and it's like they're sandwiching more people together that are not used to being around each other. That's why I think this stuff is happening,," Largent said.

The phased sweep of the encampment is organized by HomeFirst Services, an organization that's contracted with the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County to help provide homeless outreach and resources.

Virginia Becker, a homeless advocate was at the encampment on Sunday to brainstorm with other advocates in the community potential locations the people living at the encampment can move to. She's proposed the Santa Clara County fairgrounds as a possibility, but says she has not gotten county or city approval for that.

When outreach teams come to the encampment to begin phase one of the sweep, Becker says "people are terrified, people are scared, people don't have anywhere to go."