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Rantz: Seattle Fire warns I-5 in ‘jeopardy’ after large homeless fire near gas pipe

Homeless residents in an unsanctioned encampment started a “very large garbage fire” dangerously close to a natural gas pipeline under I-5, leaving some in the Seattle Fire Department deeply concerned the freeway could be in “jeopardy.”

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But, while there is reason for concern, there’s luckily no imminent danger.

Seattle Fire sent a memo to city officials on March 13, obtained by The Jason Rantz Show, with details of the fire near Alaska St, under I-5, that occurred two nights earlier.

“The encampment had stand-up plywood structures, and the refuse pile was large and deep and needed heavy equipment to overhaul,” according to the memo. “Fire crews did their best to make sure it was extinguished, but there could have been deep hot spots.”

The fire “was on top of a buried natural gas pipeline” and the equipment to remove the refuse “might have endangered the pipeline.” According to the memo, the fire was a short distance from where the Olympic petroleum pipeline passes under the freeway.

It was recommended “that no homeless encampments be permitted from Michigan to Spokane under the freeway or along Airport Way.” The memo ends with a note from the Incident Commander that “if one of the pipelines were to become involved in fire, the freeway would be in jeopardy.”

The encampments under and along the I-5 are not new. When we explored the general the area, Producer Tom Amato saw extensive encampments that have posed significant safety issues to the homeless, drivers, and nearby businesses.

“The Navigation Team is aware of the issue and we’ve had internal discussions about it as early as yesterday,” Navigation Team spokesperson Will Lemke tells The Jason Rantz Show. “There’s a huge concern of fire and gas – it’s a worst case circumstance when you have those factors. These are things we take special attention to.“

It remains unclear when the Navigation Team will be able to clear the encampment and no decision has been made whether or not the city will follow through on the fire department’s request. The mayor’s office did not return our request for comment.

For now, the situation appears to be safe, at least as it relates to the pipes.

The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH was told by a city source that an assessment indicated neither the fire nor the heavy equipment did damage to the pipes and there is no leak. There is concern, however, that the encampment might grow and that structures may end up causing serious issues.

Though the fire was contained and no one was injured, unsanctioned encampments like this pose significant risk, with city leaders consistently standing in the way of progress.

Last year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) intervened when a dangerous encampment settled under the Ballard Bridge.

“Wooden structures, open flames, and propane tanks all pose a clear danger to public safety and has the potential to destroy this critical transportation corridor that 60,000 vehicles rely on each day,” a statement from SDOT said at the time.

Consequently, the city fenced the area, angering Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who didn’t like the fencing — often referred to as “hostile architecture.” He said fencing the area makes homelessness worse.

When some, including State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), wanted to fence the area known as “The Jungle,” the site of significant murder and child rape, the majority of the council pushed back at the time.

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Kshama Sawant called it a waste of money, Debora Juarez said it was “insane,” and Lorena Gonzalez stupidly compared it to the border fight with President Donald Trump.

“We shouldn’t be building a fence on the southern border,” González said according to the Stranger, “and we shouldn’t be building a fence on the I-5 corridor.”

At the same time, there’s been a significant push to gut the Navigation Team of staff members, despite showing significant results in connecting the homeless with services. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda pushed legislation through that would have cut four staff members.

The decision — which included the support of Sawant, O’Brien and Lisa Herbold — was later reversed, after significant pressure.

Under the leadership of these council members, homelessness has gotten worse, spawning a number of activist groups, like Safe Seattle and Speak Out Seattle, advocating for common sense policies to treat the root causes of the problem.

In the meantime, the issue is leaving many Seattle voters wondering when the city will step up in a more meaningful way. Hopefully, it will happen before a fire near a gas pipe results in an explosion.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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