SPFD: Cause of Santa Clara Riverbed homeless encampment fire unknown
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: January 11, 2013
A blaze at a homeless encampment filled with trash and propane tanks was quickly put out Tuesday, although initially firefighters had to wait to ensure their own safety.
According to Santa Paula Asst. Fire Chief Kevin Fildes, the January 8 incident was reported about 11:45 a.m. when firefighters “responded to the report of a large head of smoke in the river bed” area near the 400 block of South Steckel Drive. Upon arrival at the scene, SPFD Engine 81 personnel found “a homeless encampment that was burning... and because of all the trash and all the propane canisters,” Fildes said, firefighters “had to stand back and watch it burn” until they determined there was no danger of explosion.
Mutual aid was requested from Ventura County Fire for two additional engines and a hand crew, the latter “In case the fire spread to the bamboo and grew in size” or there was an explosion of propane that would spread the blaze. Fildes said the engines were cancelled but the hand crew stayed, ensuring access to the scene of the fire. Once it was declared safe to approach the blaze it took firefighters about 45 minutes before the fire was declared extinguished.
The encampment held “multiple tents, five or six probably,” but, Fildes said, “No one was on scene during the fire... only when we were getting ready to leave that one of the hand crew said two people had shown up” who lived at the encampment. Said Fildes, “We don’t know at this time how the fire started - you hear everything under the sun - but we don’t have anything concrete to say it was one thing or another.”
The previous week on January 3 there had been a report of “quite a bit of smoke” coming from the riverbed fire that Fildes said upon investigation was found to a cooking fire. A family living on the riverbed was asked to “put it out because of the high winds that day” that, Fildes said, could have caused a much larger fire incident.