A small fire struck a homeless encampment near Second Street in West Berkeley early Sunday morning, authorities and community members report.
Acting Berkeley Fire Chief Dave Brannigan said a single engine was able to handle the blaze, which burned trash and plastic, and was likely caused by heating or cooking. The call to BFD came in at 2:45 a.m. No injuries were reported. BFD said, after publication, that the occupant of the shelter was not there during the fire, which was out within eight minutes.
According to scanner traffic, first responders were dispatched to what was initially described as a possible tire fire with lots of billowing black smoke. Police in the area were able to see the fire as they responded to the scene. When they got there, they described the incident as a large debris fire at Second and Page streets, according to the recordings.
A neighborhood resident told Berkeleyside on Sunday that the fire destroyed a homeless encampment on Page near Second. He said it’s just the latest problem in an ongoing neighborhood saga.
“The entire length of 2nd street between Cedar and Jones has become a homeless village,” he wrote, and expressed concern about conditions: “Campsites and debris have blocked the street to cars and fire trucks but the City has not addressed or resolved this health and safety issue.”
The city has been working to set up a new homeless shelter at Second and Cedar streets, two blocks south of where the fire took place, to provide an alternative to street camping in the neighborhood and around Berkeley.
District 1 Councilwoman Linda Maio said, during a recent discussion of that shelter — the Pathways center — that people are already living on the streets in the neighborhood in very vulnerable conditions. Local businesses and campers have expressed concern about the status quo, she said, and talks with those individuals had been troubling.
“There were things that were happening that shouldn’t have been happening anywhere,” she said.
In addition to its plans for Pathways, city officials are set to consider whether Berkeley should also create sanctioned homeless encampments in the future. That discussion may take place in late November.