MADERA, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Christopher Arias spent his Wednesday afternoon sorting through what’s left of his house on Riverview Drive in Madera. His family is one of two that lost their home in a fire on Tuesday night.

“Just tons of stuff you can’t get back. Everything is materialistic, but there are just things you can’t get back,” Arias said.

According to the Madera Fire Department, the fire started in the Fresno riverbed behind the homes. Although officials have not confirmed the cause, neighbors and police lieutenant Josiah Arnold believe it was started by someone in the homeless encampments.

“It’s a massive issue for us. We get calls from those homeowners on a regular basis expressing concerns about fire. We’ve stopped a lot of fires, but we had dozens last year. We’re at the very beginning of fire season and we’ve already lost multiple homes,” Arnold said.

Arnold said there are state laws and city municipal codes that are supposed to prevent people from living in the river, but during the pandemic, the state put COVID restrictions in place that prevented them from being able to conduct homeless encampment cleanups.

“The unintended consequence of it was that, unfortunately, what you tolerate you encourage sometimes. By tolerating people living unlawfully in that area, that population increased dramatically. So did the crime,” he said.

Christopher says he hopes the loss of his home and his neighbor’s home is a wake-up call to local and state politicians.

“It’s time to get off your butts and do something. The mayor, our city councilman…we have to do something to clean up our city, clean up our state…” he said.

On Wednesday night, Madera City Council will meet on whether or not to enter a contract with a cleanup crew that Lt. Arnold said will help them work on the river.

As for Christopher, he said he wants to rebuild his home on the same lot. He said this loss won’t define him or his family.