Tents in Minneapolis homeless encampment catch fire; no injuries reported

November 19, 2018

Multiple tents caught fire Monday afternoon at an encampment along Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis where hundreds of homeless people have been living since late summer, fire officials said.

The blaze at Hiawatha Avenue and 26th Street was extinguished by firefighters using fire retardant, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department.

No injuries were reported.

A view from above late Monday showed a checkerboard of tents in blue, green, gray and other shades — with several square feet of flattened space covered by white fire retardant.

With the sudden onset of winter weather last week, city officials had expressed concern that improvised heating equipment might cause fires or carbon monoxide poisoning at the camp, which has grown steadily and is now home to an estimated 200 adults and children. In cooperation with the Red Lake Nation, they plan to move the residents in early December to a nearby tribally-owned site that would have warmer housing structures and sanitation facilities. The City Council last month approved $1.5 million for the move.

Since August, city, county and American Indian officials have treated the camp as a public health emergency and have marshaled teams of volunteer medical workers and social workers to talk to the residents and sign them up for housing.

The leaders of Red Lake Nation, whose members represent about one-quarter of the camp population, have also launched an aggressive effort to recruit willing landlords and remove barriers such as rules that bar people with prior evictions or criminal records.

In St. Paul, a smaller encampment with about 30 residents had taken root at the base of Cathedral Hill. Last week city officials cleared the camp and moved residents to other sites.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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