(UPDATED 12:56 PM with city’s plan to accelerate clearing the under-bridge area)
11:08 AM: Will this morning’s fire in the unsanctioned RV camp under the West Seattle Bridge accelerate planning to clear it? That’s one of the questions we have asked city reps in the aftermath of the fire. We were not at the scene during the 4 am fire – TV was – but have since gone for a closeup look and also to check the nearby area in the aftermath of last week’s sweep/cleanup. Above are the two RVs that burned. Seattle Fire Department spokesperson Lt. Harold Webb tells WSB no injuries were reported, and the fire was accidental: “Fire Investigators determined that the fire was accidental and occurred when owner/occupant attempted to start the engine for warming purposes and it caught on fire.” This area is just west of East Marginal, under the bridge west of the Highway 99 overpass.
Those SDOT trucks were there during our stop but it did not appear to be related to the fire’s aftermath; SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah didn’t have information on what they were doing but said that the fire left the bridge with “superficial surface damage; the engineer thoroughly inspected and deemed it safe for travel.” Meantime, with a week passing since the recent sweep of tent campers nearby, we took a look at that area too, walking the path for a distance. It’s empty:
This sign warns would-be campers that it’s an “emphasis area,” as reported here last week:
Meantime, we’ll add updates later when we get answers to our questions about what’ll be done in this area in the future. This isn’t the first fire in an RV under the bridge; in January 2016, a man died of smoke inhalation in an RV fire near 1st and Spokane, a few blocks east of this morning’s fire scene.
12:56 PM: Here’s what the city says it’s doing – moving to “close the area to all camping.” An excerpt:
… While closing the area to all camping will take a bit more time, we are now addressing the immediate hazard where the fire occurred early this morning.
The Navigation Team has been there all morning, doing individualized outreach and offering alternative shelter. For today, we are focusing on removing the two burned-out RVs, which will first require moving other RVs and tents in that immediate vicinity to create a safe work zone. The Navigation Team is assisting with moving people a safe distance for that to occur.
Over the next 10 days, the area under the western end of the Spokane Street Viaduct will be cleared of all people and structures and a work zone perimeter will be established to allow SDOT and Seattle City Light to perform repair and maintenance unrelated to today’s fire. Outreach will continue up to that point to work with the individuals living there and find them alternative shelter.
We are beginning to assess the working condition of the RVs and other vehicles all along the Spokane Street as we work to close the area to all camping. Outreach will lead the engagement with any individuals living in tents or RVs.
In general, the City has been focusing its efforts to address the homelessness crisis on working with individuals in tent encampments, especially the ones with the greatest public health and safety concerns for the individuals and the surrounding community. The Navigation Team has been finding success with many individuals, finding solutions that fit their needs and helping move them into safer living situations. Other City crews are addressing the trash related to encampments and illegal dumping in general around the city. This work will continue.
Camping under low bridge structures presents a hazard for this essential infrastructure. In addition to other efforts to mitigate the impacts of the homelessness crisis, including working to move people into alternative shelter and cleaning trash, we will be assessing these low-bridge structures around the city and will prioritize efforts to address immediate hazards.
As we did with the previous cleanup in the area, we will check in on this one in the days ahead, too.