Watch CBS News

Spike In San Jose Grass Fires Attributed To Homeless Encampments

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A sharp increase in grass fires in San Jose has resulted in firefighters tracking what's been determined to be the common link: homeless encampments.

Currently in San Jose there area some 200 homeless encampments, many of them within dry grass.

Last week, there were at least four grass fires sparked within minutes of each other in an area off Capital Expressway that apparently is no stranger to suspicious fires.

In 2017, there was such a high number of fires near homeless encampments, the fire chief decided it was time to take a closer look. Now acting Fire Chief Robert Sapien is asking all his responding firefighters to track fires near encampments.

"We're responsible for protecting all residents of San Jose," said Sapien. "And understanding the hazards that they face and the hazards that our first responders face in those environments is also very important so that we can provide the very best protection that we can."

Sapien said the department just started collecting data for this year at the beginning of June. When it first started collecting data last year, it was determined that from July to December, 45 percent of vegetation fires had some connection to the homeless.

"The numbers of times that we get called out and the areas that are somewhat remote leave us on scene longer and so our resources aren't always as available," said Sapien.

Sapien added not only does it take many resources to put out the fires, it's also dangerous to both firefighters and the homeless. "It can be very hazardous, and there's no ability to alert, no ability to evacuate quickly," he said.

Many of the grass fires caused by the homeless are from fires being used to cook or to keep warm.

The continued tracking of the fires will help the department figure out the hot spots and what they can do so their resources aren't being tied up from fighting them.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.