Los Angeles experiencing alarming jump in fires at homeless encampments

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the homeless crisis continues to grow in the city of Los Angeles, the fire department is responding to an increasing number of fires at encampments.

In 2018, there was an average of seven fires a day at encampments and in 2021, that number has more than tripled to 25. Fires involving the few hundred homeless who live at the Venice Beach boardwalk has been such a problem, the L.A. Fire Department has added a fast-response vehicle on patrol to put fires out before they spread.

"You've got an emergency going on down here. If there were wildfires, an earthquake, we would help the people. Instead, we just leave them in the street to fend for themselves," said Shawn Stern, a 34-year resident of Venice Beach.

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"People are using fires for lots of different things. Cooking, keeping warm. Inevitably, you've got tents, clothes on the ground, inevitably fires start," said Stern.

The LAFD tells Eyewitness News they're focused on educating themselves and the public on safe cooking and heating tools to avoid fires, and believe the larger footprint will help keep everyone safe.

"What we want to do is for this red rig here be a deterrent and raise the awareness about how we can do things more safely and make sure the fires stay at a small level if at all," said Armando Hogan, the deputy chief for operations of the LAFD's West Bureau.

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Once prime beachfront property, parts of Venice have transformed into a homeless hotbed.



But adding fire resources won't eliminate the problem and the department knows that, which is why they're working with other agencies to get the homeless help. Not all the fires are accidental, some are arson and longtime Venice resident Shawn Stern is afraid the LAFD vehicle will only serve as a Band-Aid.

"If you have a failed plan, and you continue to do the same failed plan even with all the money the governor wants to give, it's not gonna change unless you change the plan. The plan doesn't work. Time to reevaluate. Help these people. People are dying in the streets," said Stern.

The fire department's fast-response vehicle will be on patrol 10 hours a day, four days a week and be increased as needed.

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