Fires at homeless encampments on the rise

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Updated: 5/20/2013 11:34 am
(Justin Wills Reporting)

Fresno firefighters are concerned about a growing number of fires at homeless encampments. 

The latest was at H and Santa Clara Streets near downtown Fresno.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but firefighters say many of the fires at the encampments are started as a result of copper wire theft. 

Koby Johns with the Fresno Fire Department said, "Copper is the premium thing and that's why we're seeing an increase amount of these fires starting because people are using the fire to melt the insulation off of the wire." 

Copper wire is worth nearly $2 a pound when it's stripped of it's insulation.

Other metals are burned at the encampments as well but they are only worth about .06 cents a pound.

The metals are a source of income for many of the homeless people in the encampments and firefighters say it can be costly. "When a fire starts, it spreads incredibly rapid and people are sleeping in these places and there's an increased risk to their safety," said Johns.

The City of Fresno has taken notice and authorities are hoping to address the problem by cleaning out more encampments by the end of summer. 

The city's homeless prevention and policy manager says that will happen in conjunction with a new housing and services plan that is currently in the works. 

Firefighters say we can actually curb the problem by not dumping things like old mattresses and recycling our own metal.

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