Structures Burn at OR Homeless Camps as People Try to Keep Warm

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As people hunkered in their homes Thursday to keep the winter storm at bay, thousands of people in Portland experiencing homelessness endured harsh conditions through the night. 

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports outreach workers fanned the streets before the first winter storm struck, handing out blankets, tents and cold weather gear. The Joint Office for Homeless Services opened three severe weather shelters with nearly 300 beds. 

But, in the past day, efforts to stay warm and dry while camping led to at least two fires in Portland.

Around midnight Thursday, a fire erupted near the exit from eastbound Interstate 84 east onto Interstate 205 north, said Portland Fire & Rescue Lt. Laurent Picard.

That fire destroyed improvised structures made out of two-by-fours and tarps. The fire crew heard explosions that sounded like small propane canisters and some small ammunition, Picard said.

On Friday, Portland Fire & Rescue crews responded to a structure fire at a homeless encampment along Northeast Everett Street near the on-ramp to Interstate 84, Picard said.

One structure made out of pallets was destroyed but no injuries were reported. Firefighters saw improvised heating equipment there, but the cause is unknown, Picard said.

The latest reports come after a 27-year-old died Tuesday from severe burns. The individual was using an improvised propane heating device in their makeshift shelter when it caught fire, according to Portland Fire & Rescue.

People seeking shelter can show up to shelter sites or can call 211 to inquire about availability and arrange to receive free transportation to a shelter.

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