Blaze erupts at Sanctioned Homeless Camp under I-580 Underpass

Published On May 1, 2017 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary

A fire broke out at the sanctioned homeless camp under the I-580 underpass near 36th and Magnolia/Peralta this evening. A dark plume of smoke could be seen rising from the area at about 8:20 p.m. followed by the wail of sirens. [Update:] The East Bay Times is reporting that there were no injuries or casualties according to Oakland Fire battalion chief Erik Logan.

The site is that of the “Compassionate Communities” pilot program spearheaded by Oakland D3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. We previously spotlighted the efforts of the program as part of our contribution to The SF Homeless Project. The encampment was scheduled to be dismantled on April 1st and City officials were scouting a more permanent location under I-580 near Mandela Parkway and 34th. Caltrans was reportedly asking $20K per month to lease the space causing a breakdown in negotiations.

A Chronicle report later explained the difficulty placing residents of the site in shelters noting a high rate of Heroin addiction among the occupants. The Chronicle also exposed a recent rash of fires at homeless camps after an April 13 fire that the Fire Chief blamed on a cooking fire. Homeless encampments are not regulated under the California fire code according to Oakland city administrator’s office spokeswoman Karen Boyd.

After the blaze has been contained, Twitter reports estimated that half of the tents had been destroyed by the fire.

An updated piece by The Chronicle notes that it s suspected the fire was “set by a woman who had argued with her boyfriend” and that their were plans by The City of Oakland to clear the camp out by Friday. “We have to,” noted Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries. “After what happened, it’s apparent that we have serious safety issues there.”

Since this is breaking news, we will update this post as new information becomes available.
Feature Image: @tom_eberhard via Twitter


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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

12 Responses to Blaze erupts at Sanctioned Homeless Camp under I-580 Underpass

  1. David Buchannan says:

    Just a quick correction of a typo – “whale of sirens” should read “wail of sirens”.

    As for the subject of the article, I can’t help but wonder if there is unreported arson, considering the “rash of fires” lately – someone trying to clear out homeless camps by making it appear that they are dangerous? Sadly, these days nothing would surprise me. 🙁

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks David. Fixed. This crossed my mind although this isn’t too far fetched to believe the cooking fire explanation if you’ve ever toured one of these camps and seen the level of debris scattered about. Hopefully we’ll find out and hopefully nobody was hurt.

  2. S says:

    It strikes me that, until recently, there wasn’t the level of debris I’ve seen at other camps, for example on wood street. However, Sunday evening I rode by for the first time in a few days and was surprised at the significant increase in trash volume surrounding the camp. It seems as though the city was managing the refuse and then…. wasn’t.

    • Rob says:

      The city was supposed to be providing garbage removal services. That occurred until April. In April, it appears the garbage service was no longer provided which explains the accumulation. Still trying to get an answer as to why the garbage service was stopped.

  3. Lee says:

    This is not a campground/ park and people should not be living in tents under the freeway. This encampment situation allows the City of Oakland to not be responsible by building affordable housing for citizens. If you look in this area there is building but only for profit not to house homeless that is why the encampments numbers keep growing. These encampments also allow people who are dumpers use the excuse of giving to the homeless to dump unwanted junk at these sites.( That is why there is so much more garbage around the camps now)

  4. todd says:

    I’m assuming none of you live anywhere close to this “camp”? I have been living less then a block away from this “camp” well before it was created. I have seen the many phases it has gone thru and when i read what is written about it, i am dumbfounded!!! You are all living in some imaginary world. Living near this camp has been the most awful living conditions I have experienced in the 15 years i have lived in this area. Unfortunately, I am to poor to move anywhere else. Cars are being broken into daily, anything remotely valuable( locked up bikes, lawnmower, etc.) has been stolen. My Fucking DOG was even stolen and sold to some random person!!! Luckly after a trip to the vet and the discovery of a chip, i was able to BUY HIM BACK, from the shadey person who “purchased him”!!!! I have not spoken to one person in the area, who pays rent, that is supportive of this fucked up, New Jack City ass “camp”. I was an open-minded, liberal thinking person prior to these disrespectful neighbors “moving in”. I have heard them scream things at females i have had over, that would make Bill Cosby blush. THEY STOLE MY DOG?! have any of you had your fucking dog kidnapped out of your yard, by the people that live a half block away??? The city of Oakland NEEDS to move this camp somewhere else! How, after exploding in flames, TWICE, has the City of Oakland not shut this place down?? And your conspiracies about the 2nd time this place exploded are completely unrealistic and paranoid. It was some crackhead lady arguing with her boyfriend. Do you really think any of these spineless yuppies would walk into that trash pile and start a fire??

    • Anonymous says:

      Sorry, you are incorrect. This is a progressive paradise. All the people who are homeless are noble souls who are just down on their luck because of systemic racism and classism.

      You and your dog must have missed the memo.

      (Kidding, kidding, it sucks and I feel for you. Some white yuppie decided that people in your neighborhood should suffer so they can feel good about themselves. Thanks for sharing the reality that none of them have to live. I’m glad you got your dog back!)

  5. neighbor says:

    Ironic. This is article was written by a privileged resident of “emeryville”. Obviously, no one that wrote this article did any real journalism to find out what’s actually going on with the camp that has terrorized our community for the past year.(and I don’t blame them, this “journalist” wouldn’t last 5 minutes on that corner) I live on the block of this “encampment”, and have for years. We live in terror. It is an open air drug market rampant with crime, crackheads and prostitutes in technicolor underwear. My roommate has been robbed at knifepoint. My car has been broken into 18 times in the last 2 years. 18 times. Do you know what it’s like to live in a place free of law? I do. I watch police drive by people smoking crack, people standing straight up while asleep with needles hanging out their arms. I watch people break into cars and loot them. Shady drug dealers pull up in cars and set up shop. The police aren’t interested in keeping people safe. It’s an all out travesty in every sense of the word. Our neighbors beloved pet was kidnapped from their home and sold for drugs. I guarantee with a little “real” journalism you will uncover a greater conspiracy, which not only involves systemic racism, but also includes payoffs to the police. The fact somebody had the gaul to suggest a neighbor burnt the place down is completely ignorant to reality. The police are in on the whole thing, letting the area spiral out of control. This “camp” is a front for a sophisticated drug operation that the cops have their hand in. Go back to emeryville with this crap journalism

  6. Neighbor says:

    Ps. The biggest tragedy is the dog that died in the fire. I would bet my life that the dog was probably someone in the neighborhoods best friend, taken out of their front yards and sold for drugs, only to meet a terrible fiery fate. It’s disgusting. I would love to see Rob Arias go walk his beloved French bulldog rescue “Fiona” by the drug encampment. He would be stabbed and shot, pockets ran through, and that dog would be gone, sold for a bundle of crack before you could count to twenty.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Hello Neighbor, for this particular story, it was breaking news and admittedly I didn’t take a very deep dive into it and just reported about the fire. I would like to understand the challenges this created for the neighborhood especially since Oakland is considering trying this again not too far away and Emeryville is considering building a shelter just a couple blocks from here. Please reach out to me if you’d be willing to chat at rob[at]evilleeye.com.

  7. Rob says:

    Rob, you should do a follow up on this piece. We need consistent media coverage of Oakland’s efforts to ensure that it is held accountable. Following the fire, the city set a deadline for closure. The deadline came and the city was unable to clean everything up and left the camp partially open with tents spread in the nearby park, other side of the street, on the island outside of K rails. Additionally, there are continued and growing issues with other camps within the 10 block radius. I think it is in the interests of both the housed and unhoused residents that these issues not be reduced to disaster coverage when there is a fire or major event. A lot happened in the time between when the Magnolia camp was established and when it caught on fire and the saga will continue for the next few months. Part of the deal with the community was that Oakland would not allow people to camp within a specific area, or in the surrounding 3 – 5 blocks following its closure. Regular coverage would be incentive for the city to follow through on its commitments.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks Rob, I plan to write a follow up piece as part of the next round of the #SFHomelessProject media blitz. Can you email me at rob[at]evilleeye.com so I can get yours and others neighbors insight?

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