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Homeless fires on the rise

After two large encampment fires in one week, a small fire Monday threatens a home in downtown Fresno.
A homeless cooking fire nearly burned down a home Monday afternoon.  A family rushed from their downtown Fresno home as a grass fire burns dangerously close.  Firefighters put it out just in time.  They say someone cooking on the other side of a chain link fence likely started the blaze.  The embankment of Golden State Boulevard is lined with homeless encampments.

Firefighters happened to be a couple blocks away when they saw the plume of smoke.  They were checking out hot spots from a fire Sunday at an encampment on Los Angeles and E Street.   A relative of the family forced to escape is grateful firefighters were close.

“It's right there and it's really scary because it could just get to her house, get to her side, and anything could happen,” said Maisy Yang.

The fire department says homeless encampment fires are on the rise.  There have been at least a dozen in 2013, including two within the last week.  Small encampment fires like the one Monday are even more common: at least one a week.

“What we're really worried about is a fire is going to start in one while they're sleeping, and it's going to run though here before they can get out and it's going get people hurt,” said Koby Johns, spokesperson for Fresno Fire Department.

One homeless woman says with all the recent fires, she fears for her safety.

“I would try to call 9-1-1 and try to get the people out of here as quick as I can,” said Whitney Lee.

The cause of many of these fires is undetermined.  When arson is suspected, the fire department says it can be difficult to prove because of the conditions of the encampments.

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Fresno, CA

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