Fires in homeless encampments could be fueled by illegal cooking
Food banks provide homeless individuals with nutritious food, but this can lead to its own problems.
Yet another small fire destroyed two tents in a homeless encampment on Hoover Street in Koreatown last week.
According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the small tent fire is just one of many this year in the same encampment.
“This is our second or third time we have been here for this,” said LAFD station 11 engineer Eric Fisher. “This area burns quite often actually.”
Firefighters were called to the scene and when they arrived, no individuals were in the tents at the time of the fire.
The likely cause of the fire, Fisher said, was either failed attempts at cooking or heating up the tent.
Cooking inside such a small area with inadequate cooking devices has become a safety major concern for LAFD.
According to the L.A. Downtown Industrial District, a non-profit organization which helps in public safety, there have already been 81 tent fires on Skid Row in the last seven months, compared to a total of 59 last year.
Some of these fires have had serious consequences. Last December, the Skirball Fire, which was caused by illegal cooking, burned 422 acres and destroyed 18 homes in the Bel-Air community, according to LAFD authorities. No arrests have been made.
In 2013, California issued the Homeless Encampment Reference Guide to regulate outdoor fire or burning fire resistant materials. Homeless individuals are legally limited to using outdoor fires in encampments, but not everyone follows the rules.
“It is very common for them to cook in the tents, and obviously it’s dangerous,” Fisher said.
While food banks provide nutritious foods and vegetables to people who are homeless, many of those fresh ingredients are raw, according to Genevieve Riutort, the Chief development officer of Westside Food Bank. Part of the problem is that homeless people are trying to cook meals with them.
Vincent Black, who lives in a tent next door to the one destroyed in the fire last week, said that some homeless people need to cook their meals.
Black, who moved to Hoover Street two months ago, said he was not sure what caused the fire, but worries the government will intervene in some way.
“They will try to limit things that we need,” he said.
He said he was afraid that the government would restrict his access to cooking if the cause of the fires in homeless enclaves is determined to be making meals.
Black said he hopes that more case managers will be assigned to help the homeless population find a place to live.