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Adams County Fire Crews Navigate Safety Risk In Homeless Camps

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- People experiencing homelessness is a growing issue across the Denver metro area. Fire officials in Adams County are concerned about the safety hazards with that growing population.

In January, Adams County Fire Rescue responded to a brush fire at a homeless camp along Clear Creek, near Interstate 76 and Federal Boulevard. The man was severely burned and fire investigators say the fire was started by a cooking appliance inside a tent.

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"They're using propane, to not only cook on and stay warm, but also other fuel sources," explained Adams County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Stuart Sunderland. "Whatever they can find to cook and stay warm, and obviously that poses a safety risk for them and this is what it's all about."

Chief Sunderland said since 2018, they have responded to 88 grass fires in the county with 35% of those contributed to the homeless.

"There is the fire hazard and carbon monoxide is a hazard," he explained to CBS4. "And it's only a matter of time before we have a high wind, dry day and one of these fires really takes off."

The fire hazards at the homeless camps are not only a concern for the homeless, but Sunderland said it's also a hazard for crews. Since there is no camping allowed in Adams County, oftentimes the homeless build their camps in remote, wooded areas along Clear Creek that are hard for crews to get to, in an emergency.

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While checking out the camps with Adams County Fire Rescue on Thursday, several other concerns were pointed out to CBS4's Makenzie O'Keefe. For example, camps were littered with used needles and security traps to keep people away.

"We have fire crews stumbling around in the dark, dropping in holes, falling into barbed wire and other biohazards," Sunderland said. "And we can't get brush trucks down here so were running hundreds of feet of hose down here to get these fires out."

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While Sunderland said he's not sure what the solution is to the homelessness issue in Adams County, getting out to survey the area is important. That, and working with the homeless and the community to spread awareness about the safety concerns.

"Part of the solution is just going out and really seeing what this looks like, and not sugar coating it," he explained.

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