A recreational vehicle caught fire near the West Seattle Bridge, but no one was injured and the bridge was not damaged. Now, the city says homeless people living there have 10 days to move.
Two husks of blackened metal and melted fiberglass. That’s what remains after an early morning fire inside a Sodo homeless encampment destroyed two motor homes.
Citing safety concerns, officials announced Thursday the longstanding camp will be closed. Its remaining occupants will have until April 17 to leave and remove their belongings.
Located near the West Seattle Bridge, the camp is one of dozens of clusters of tents, motor homes and other vehicles lining the area underneath the Spokane Street Viaduct. Officials estimate about 45 people now occupy the camp where the fire occurred.
Seattle Fire Department officials said the blaze began around 4 a.m. Thursday, when a resident attempted to start the engine of his motor home. Witnesses said the fire quickly spread to a second nearby motor home. The blaze is the latest in a series at the camps that dot the areas underneath the viaduct. One claimed the life of a 37-year-old man, who was killed when his motor home caught fire.
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Inspectors with the Seattle Department of Transportation found no damage to the bridge after the Thursday fire, and no injuries were reported.
Homeless people with and without vehicles have congregated underneath the viaduct for months, as city officials worked to develop a plan to help move the thousands of people living without shelter in Seattle indoors.
But the closure of the RV camp is another reminder of the difficulty of creating a plan targeted at helping people whose primary shelter is their own car or motor home.
Last year, Mayor Ed Murray announced an emergency plan to open two “safe-lots,” where as many as 100 motor homes could park legally. But the effort was scaled back to one site amid rising costs, officials said. The site, located near the Spokane Street Viaduct, can accommodate just 16 vehicles.
Troy Humphrey, 30, said that for him the city sanctioned permanent lot isn’t a viable option. After moving his 1984 Pace Arrow RV to the Sodo camp in December, the contract for his storage space was terminated. He later brought the bulk of its contents to the camp, and then set up a makeshift workshop adjacent to his RV filled with the tools and dozens of pieces of heavy equipment.
“Wherever I go, this stuff has to come with me, and I’m just tired of moving it,” he said, moments after learning of the city’s announcement.
To other residents of the camp, the closure is a political defeat. Over the last several weeks, Thiago Cross and a handful of others have begun discussing how to lobby city officials to allow campers to remain at the site permanently.
Despite the setback, Cross said some residents will re-organize somewhere at another location in Sodo after the camp is cleared.
“For some of us, these RV’s are a comfortable home,” he said. “We just want to be able to continue to live in this community as we are.”
There is a precedent for the group’s effort. In 2016, about 20 people set up a clean and sober tent city in a vacant property on Myers Way. When city officials moved to clear the camp, residents and supporters lobbied city officials to delay a scheduled closure while they built a governing organization and applied for legal status. Eric Davis, an organizer and resident at the camp said Camp Second Chance received its operating permits last month.
A sixth authorized camp made up of tiny homes opened in Licton Springs in North Seattle on Wednesday. The city has no immediate plan to open a seventh, said city director of homelessness George Scarola in an interview.
Sgt. Eric Zerr, head of a team of Seattle police tasked with providing outreach to the homeless, said the Licton Springs and other authorized camps may be an option for some. Several residents of the Spokane Street camp took offers of emergency shelter in the hours after the fire, he said.
“It’s hard because this group has been together for a long time,” he said. But safety issues at the site trump other concerns, he added.
Zerr said city outreach team will continue to provide alternative shelter options to remaining campers as the closure nears.