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Homeless Encampment Fires Account For 80% Of Blazes Plaguing DTLA In Recent Weeks: 'It's So Sad'

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- Residents and business owners are growing frustrated and worried about the rash of homeless encampment fires that have been breaking out across the Southland.

The Los Angeles Fire Department told CBS Los Angeles that every day crews are responding to dozens of fires they say are caused by people experiencing homelessness.  It's an alarming scene taking place on seemingly every city streets as tents, trees, and trash are going up in flames. Both property and livelihoods are being impacted by the destruction caused by the fires.

Yohan Han, who owns the sporting goods store Glory Trading, found his downtown property on fire last week, costing him more than $100,000 in merchandise. The fire was caused by an unhoused person living outside his store.

"It's so sad," he told CBSLA. "I can't even explain my words, but I want everybody to see what's happening in this city. This is the reality of what's going on."

A couple miles away south of downtown sit the charred remains of an RV fire. Security footage from Acme Display caught the scene which began when a homeless person had a small fire grow into a much larger one that damaged the building as embers were sent flying onto the roof.

Acme Display owner Mike Berenzwieg said it's not the first fire around the warehouse, but they haven't been able to repair the old damage. They've been waiting for the city to clean up the remains and move the tents for six months now.

"The city won't move the tents off the sidewalk, they won't move anything," said Berenzwieg.

According to numbers obtained by CBSLA, an alarming 54% of the fires responded to by LAFD in recent weeks have been caused by people experiencing homelessness. In the downtown L.A. area, that rate soars to 80%.

And it's not just fires that do damage costing the city resources. Those working the fires downtown say they're putting out about 300 rubbish fires each month.

"If they city cannot change this homeless situation, nobody can stop this problem," says Han, who does not have fire insurance. That means he must now rebuy and rebuild. Han doesn't blame the homeless people downtown, however. Instead he's angry at the city's policies and its leaders who he says aren't doing enough to stop businesses like his from going up in flames.

"Hopefully the city makes the change to live better," he said.

It's important to remember many of those living on the streets don't have access to cellphones and cannot call the fire department right away when a blaze breaks out.

City officials say their hands are tied and that they're unable to remove the unhoused population without finding temporary or permanent housing.

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