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A huge fire broke out at a Seattle homeless encampment just blocks away from one of Google’s corporate offices earlier this week.
The blaze started at an encampment at Mercer Street and Fairview Avenue on Monday, near Interstate 5, destroying part of the camp and endangering people living in a nearby apartment complex.
The fire is at least the ninth at the encampment since last summer. It sits just a few blocks east of Google’s Fairview corporate office. The Google office does not appear to have been affected by the fire.
A 46-year-old homeless man who lives at the camp was arrested in connection with the fire. He told police the fire was started by accident when he knocked over a candle while cleaning his tent, according to court documents obtained by KOMO News.
The man reportedly said he attempted to extinguish the fire, but it spread too quickly. He was spotted fleeing the scene, according to witnesses who spoke with police. Law enforcement caught up with the suspect a few blocks away and arrested him.
Footage from the fire, which could be seen all over the city, shows black clouds of smoke billowing around buildings, bridges, and the Seattle Space Needle.
“Something is seriously on fire around Eastlake in Seattle right now,” one social media user posted on X along with a video of the menacing clouds.
Seattle encampment, fire pic.twitter.com/MnwOwIUdiw
— Glenn E. Malone, EdD (@GEMalone) August 15, 2023
Something is seriously on fire around Eastlake in Seattle right now pic.twitter.com/vzt50fOQ7J
— Sergey Yun (@iskra_9) August 15, 2023
— Hayssam (@destinatepath) August 15, 2023
The Seattle Fire Department responded to the fire and prevented it from spreading beyond the homeless encampment. Court documents also showed that there is an exterior gas line nearby.
City officials said cleanup work would occur within two or three weeks. Cleanup crews have already visited the site this week, a spokesman for the mayor said.
The suspect is being held and investigated for felony reckless burning. His bail was set at $50,000, although prosecutors had asked for a $150,000 bail.
One resident who lives in the apartment building near the homeless encampment expressed her frustration to KOMO News.
“I told the city this was going to happen, they set fires all the time. We called fire department about seven or eight times this year,” she told the outlet. “It’s absolutely insane they are protecting ten people over 2,000 innocent people.”
Seattle residents have been asking the city to get rid of the encampment for months, citing the safety of both the homeless people and other residents.
In March, a woman was strangled to death at the encampment, and her body was not discovered for four days.
Seattle has seen its homeless population spike in recent years.
In 2022, about 7,620 people were homeless in King County, which includes Seattle, up 38% from 2020, according to the county’s annual point-in-time count.
Seattle is not the only West Coast city struggling with the trifecta of crime, homelessness, and drug addiction. Harrowing scenes of homeless people engaging in open-air drug use and living in filth on city streets continue to come out of neighborhoods in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and other cities as well.