Emeryville and West Oakland neighbors were rattled by a loud explosion last night at about 9 pm. A large plume of black smoke could be seen streaming from the area behind Home Depot that has been the site of several large homeless encampments.
Emeryville Police diverted cars away from the scene on the corner of Hollis and a MacArthur Freeway off-ramp. Fire crews including Oakland Engine 5 and Alameda County Engines 34 & 35 responded to the scene and quickly contained the blaze. Employees and patrons of the store were reportedly evacuated as a precaution.
Occupants of the encampment could be seen this afternoon sifting through a pile of charred bike frames and other debris. Remarkably, there were no reported injuries.
While neither the Alameda County or Oakland Fire Departments have posted a cause of the explosion and subsequent blaze, a witness we spoke to said it was likely from a propane tank ignited by either an open barbecue or candle.
Facebook comments from a witness seemed to validate the likely cause. “As I passed by on the bus at about 7:45 tonight, there was some sort of propane burner on high,” noted a witness who identified herself as Rachel. “It did not look safe.”
The area behind Home Depot has gotten so obstructed, that some bus lines are being rerouted to avoid the area. Residents of the area have gotten increasingly frustrated with the lack of response by our local governments and agencies. “This is why homelessness is a public health issue, not just a ‘get a job’ issue,” noted a follower on Facebook who identified herself as Sarah.
The area that has been hampered by jurisdictional bureaucracy as it splits Emeryville, Oakland and Caltrans’ responsibility. “It’s been chaos, we’ve been abandoned by the City of Oakland,” said nearby West Oakland business owner Bill Eason in this April ABC 7 report. “Drug dealers will drive up, and all their customers will just run. They’ll double park in the middle of the street. The customers will run up and then run back into their tents.”
Fire at homeless encampments have been an increasing issue in the area and region. Last February, a man lost his life an encampment fire near I-980.
Since this is breaking news, we will update this post as new information becomes available.