SFD on pace to respond to more than 1,000 encampment fires in 2023

Apr 5, 2023, 5:19 PM

encampment fire...

(Photo courtesy of Seattle Fire Department)

(Photo courtesy of Seattle Fire Department)

Three encampment fires were reported by Seattle Fire Department (SFD) Wednesday, bringing the total to 261 in just over three months, on pace for a third year in a row of more than 1,000 recorded encampment fires, according to SFD Live.

The three fires Wednesday occurred at 15th Ave NE., the intersection of S. Holgate St and Utah Ave S., and 7th Ave NE., all occurring before 8 a.m.

Last year, SFD responded to 1,538 encampment fires during 2022, according to the department, averaging 128 a month, while 1,446 fires occurred at encampments in 2021. 2020 saw just 854 instances, 45% less than 2022’s mark.

Possible meth lab caught fire in Chinatown encampment

Only one major incident — an encampment fire that required five or more units assigned — has been reported this year, a significant drop from the 21 combined over the last two years.

The area with the most encampment fires in Seattle this year is along 6th Ave, between Yesler Way and Seneca Street, and near Broadway.

One of the encampments on 6th Ave., near Airport Way, was cleared out Wednesday, according to the King County Regional Homeless Authority. It’s the fifth encampment cleared within the city in the last two weeks. Seventy-four people living in the encampment were moved into either a shelter or permanent housing.

Additionally, an encampment under the First Avenue Bridge was also cleared last month, as state and city crews in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood relocated 35 people out of the camp, with 30 accepting housing.

“We have a housing crisis and we are in the beginning stages of fighting it with major cleanup efforts all across the state of Washington,” Inslee said in an impromptu press conference when touring the encampment. “Reductions of homeless camps in Spokane, in Vancouver, in Seattle, Tukwila.”

The clearing of the First Avenue bridge encampment came after months of public outcry as a group of parents demanded action from the state. This specific encampment reportedly caused a series of traffic delays, while shootings, fires, and deaths around the encampment have spurred serious safety concerns for those who live nearby.

Parents protest Ship Canal Bridge encampment near school

SFD is in the midst of a significant staff shortage following the executive decision to require a vaccine mandate for those employed.

In two separate lawsuits filed in 2022, according to KIRO News 7, more than 20 Seattle firefighters sued Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins and the city over their imminent or past terminations related to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell announced in February that both King County and the city of Seattle will no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, but the department has yet to rehire those who left over the mandate.

SFD shelled out $38 million in overtime in 2021 in response to its staffing shortages, a 49% increase over 2019 and the most in department history.

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SFD on pace to respond to more than 1,000 encampment fires in 2023