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San Jose Sees Spike In Fires At Homeless Encampments

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- As wildfires rage in Northern California, neighbors in San Jose are growing increasingly worried about fires caused by homeless residents.

The San Jose Fire Department says it's now responding to an average of three fires per day believed to be caused by homeless residents.

"Somebody has to come up with a creative solution because it's endangering the entire neighborhood," said Steven Pera, who owns Roma Bakery on S. Almaden Ave., just a few feet south of Interstate Highway 280.

Pera's employee recorded a video of an out-of-control fire at a homeless encampment under the roadway in downtown San Jose Tuesday morning.

"First there was an explosion, which got our attention and then we saw the fire break out immediately," Pera said.

The fire department says a couch was on fire and a single-engine company put it out.

No one was hurt and the debris including a person's tent was cleared. But smoke stains on the freeway columns show it's the second fire at the same location within a matter of months.

Pera worries other nearby camps closer to dry brush and homes could start fires there.

"If a fire like that took place there, not only is the hillside going to go up, houses could be in danger and our business could be in danger," he said.

It is a very real threat. On Tuesday, a fire burned near other homeless camps along Coyote Creek, and another one just days before.

The fire department says homeless encampment fires are more than a daily occurrence.

"It's about three a day actually," said Fire Captain Brad Cloutier.

From July of 2018 to June of 2019, San Jose firefighters responded to almost 92,000 calls. Of those, 8,000 were all homeless incidents, including medicals, and almost 1,200 were just fires.

"They were cooking fires, furniture on fire, and entire encampment on fire," Cloutier said.

The fire department says the homeless camp fires are not stretching the department too thin. But neighbors worry that they could always lead to something bigger.

"Our crews are well equipped and well trained to handle it," Cloutier said.



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