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Government officials insist that 'stay-warm fires' not allowed for illegal campers

Nov. 14, 2017
       Located in the Red Rock shopping center off West Colorado Avenue's 3100 block, Robert Maez' UPS store is a reluctant neighbor to the frequent illegal campers along Fountain Creek scarcely 100 feet behind the building.
       It's especially disturbing sometimes as evening comes, when smoke from fires starts curling up from those camps.
This trash-strewn transient camp next to Fountain Creek was for many months in 2008 one of the first views for motorists on Cimarron Street/Highway 24 coming to the Westside from the downtown or I-25. It was eventually removed after the city passed a no-camping ordinance, but in recent years city government's civil rights concerns have neutralized enforcement of that law.
Westside Pioneer file photo
To top it off, Maez says that lately he's been hearing mixed signals from city and county authorities and responders about how such fires should be dealt with.
       In recent communications with the Westside Pioneer, as well as several Westside businesses, he reported conflicting conversations with Colorado Springs and El Paso County public safety officials, which have left him with the impression that for compassion's sake, illegal campers are being allowed to have - at least in some cases - "stay-warm fires" this winter.
       Seeking clarification, the Pioneer contacted Colorado Springs Police Department Sergeant Curt Hasling, who heads the Homeless Outreach (HOT) Team for CSPD; and Commander John Padgett at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, whose duties include overseeing the agency's
In a photo from 2010, Robert Maez is seen at work inside his UPS store in the Red Rock shopping center, while in the foreground stands an artistically decorated, former parking meter. He was one of several merchants at that time who volunteered space for such meters. People were encouraged to feed the meters, with funds going to homeless-aiding charities.
Westside Pioneer file photo
wildland fire team. Both adamantly responded that fires from illegal campsites are not permitted.
       Stories to the contrary are “totally false,” Padgett said. “If we get a report of a fire, we put it out.”
       In an e-mail, Hasling said, “I can assure you that we have NOT received word that 'warming fires' are acceptable in any fashion, nor do I anticipate this directive being given. These types of illegal open fires present a significant hazard to the surrounding community/homes/businesses. When we are made aware of these illegal fires, we work with the CSFD to determine who is responsible for starting them and if probable cause can be established we cite them accordingly.”
       Illegal campfires have become an increasing community-wide concern, especially after several last winter off the King bypass that required Fire Department responses and, in late October, a several-acre brush blaze west of Mesa Springs that authorities blamed on a homeless camp.
       As to the camping issue itself, police have previously explained that in most cases city legal concerns about civil rights constrain them from removing illegal camps (as they'd been allowed to do until about 10 years ago) - despite a 2010 city ordinance disallowing camping on public land.
       Maez has been involved with homeless issues, including efforts with the Avenue Merchants group and his store's support of a 2010 initiative by former City Councilmember Jerry Heimlicher, in which people were asked to put their spare change into artistically decorated, former parking meters - with funds going to homeless-aiding charities - instead of into the hands of panhandlers.
       Apprised of the statements from Padgett and Hasling, Maez said he appreciated the information, but offered the e-mail opinion that “somewhere in the works is a disconnect with the the policies in place and the perspective of several responders and officials in different organizations, CSPD, CSFD and other public safety officers. It is critical that the leaders of all agencies clearly ensure that all members know and understand their policies. The risk is too great when something goes horribly wrong. The liability is real to our public safety organizations if they condone or allow the risk to not be mitigated.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Public Safety)

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