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Three fires started in Sacramento homeless encampments burn 165 acres in a week

"The folks living outside are just trying to survive... they want to stay warm, they want to eat," said Loaves & Fishes Joe Smith. "People have nowhere to go."

SACRAMENTO, Calif — Around 165 acres in the heart of Sacramento have been burned from three separate fires that began in encampments of those experiencing homelessness within the last week. 

While fires in this area are nothing new, an increase in fires is concerning for officials.

"Every year we have fire activity in the lower American River Parkway," said Sacramento Fire Department's Captain Keith Wade. "This year, in particular, it's been more than usual."

It's been especially busy for the Sacramento Fire Department within the short span of the first week of June, with three fires occurring in the lower American Parkway. 

Captain Wade said these fires always garner attention from the community as they're essentially at the center of the city and it's something that may occur more and more with high temperatures and wind we're already experiencing.

"[Sunday's] fire was big. 125 acres," said Captain Wade. "Normally, we would see an event like that later in fire season. We saw it yesterday. We're early in June still."

The other two fires occurred Wednesday night just south of Cal Expo and were only within an acre of each other. Both burned around 20 acres, Captain Wade said.

"Wednesday evening we had a 20-acre fire and as they were containing that, we had another incident spark only about a quarter acre east of that area in the lower American River Parkway," Captain Wade said. "And that one was quickly spreading. We had to scramble quickly and get resources assigned to that so we had a lot of concern and factors in play when we have these fire events."

While all fires were separate incidents, they have one thing in common; they all began in encampments of those experiencing homelessness, Captain Wade said. They're all currently under investigation.

Loaves & Fishes Outreach Advisor Joe Smith said the river area offers security and safety for those experiencing homelessness - and that many have lived there for years, creating self-governing and close-knit communities there.

"The folks living outside are just trying to survive," said Smith. "They're like anybody else. They want to stay warm. They want to cook... they want to eat."

But with the outbreak of recent fires, Sacramento County issued an order last week saying those residing on the river had 72 hours to vacate. The county then rescinded the order just hours later. 

Smith said the order was rescinded after the city of Sacramento stepped in.

"Before just evicting people off the parkway, the city has stepped in to try and partner with the county to try and find solutions so people could have a safe place to go," said Smith. "That's the bottom line here, people have nowhere to go."

Smith said when those residing on the riverfront are evicted, they move towards the city and neighborhoods which he said "creates a whole other set of issues for people."

But Smith is hopeful the city of Sacramento's recent plans and movement will help create solutions for those living in the elements.

"The city is working diligently on a plan finding safe spaces for people to camp, park and motel vouchers, transitional living and permanent supportive housing," said Smith. "They're really stepping up big with their plans. But they're not there yet. Until there's a safe place for people to be... we're in kind of a weird place."

As we enter fire season further, a place that could be more dangerous for unhoused and housed alike.

"If a wind driven event happened in some of those areas, we'd have a very high potential for a tragic outcome and loss of life," said Captain Wade. "That's what we're trying to avoid at all times."

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