Fire destroys homeless encampment north of Schnitzer Steel on Hwy 99

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A fire burned several tent sites at a homeless encampment Friday afternoon between the Schnitzer Steel recycling plant and the train tracks west of Eugene, displacing more than a dozen people.

The fire was reported shortly after 4:30 p.m., with firefighters responding to 111 Highway 99, Schnitzer’s primary address. It was reported under control around 4:57 p.m., according to dispatch logs. It took two hours to completely extinguish the fire, Eugene Springfield Battalion Chief Robert Grand said Friday night.

One of the camp residents was David Smithhart, 47, who said he went to get ice cream from Dairy Queen before returning to find black smoke billowing from his canopy tent.

“I rushed to see my camp, and a few others – three of the four – have just been destroyed,” said Smithhart, who has lived at the camp for almost a year.

A fire burns near the train tracks off Foch Street west of Eugene on Friday August 26, 2022.

The camp and fire were against the fence on the north side of Schnitzer Steel, an industrial area. About 20 people lived in the encampment and 14 were displaced by the fire, Grand said. He noted that the fire could have become much more difficult to stop if it had spread to the Schnitzer Steel plant.

“He was burning really big and hot, and if he walked into that yard, we’d probably still be here tonight taking care of all the different piles there,” Grand said.

Four fire engines, a truck, a water call vehicle, two main vehicles, a supply truck and an ambulance responded to the blaze, Grand said. The American Red Cross has been called to provide temporary housing for those affected, he said.

Firefighters spray water on a fire near Foch Street behind Schnitzer Steel west of Eugene Friday, August 26, 2022.

There were no injuries in the blaze, Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Mike Caven said.

A fire marshal is still working to determine the cause of the fire, Grand said.

Smithhart said he did not see how the fire started and was unable to find his cat after the fire. When asked where he and others would move, Smithhart replied, “I have no idea.”

Louis Krauss covers breaking news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.

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