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City officials considering ways for illegal campers to have fires

Dec. 5, 2017
       The police sergeant who leads the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach (HOT) Team plans to meet with the City Fire Department and City Attorney's Office about ways that people camping illegally could be allowed to have fires.
       Sgt. Curt Hasling told the Westside Pioneer he thinks the possibility could be found in the 2009 International Fire Code, which
Firefighters douse a fire at a transient camp that briefly burned out of control off Naegele Road and 25th Street in 2013.
Westside Pioneer file photo
permits “recreational fires” under certain conditions.
       As examples, he mentioned using “fire rings” or burning pieces of wood (not trash) as the combustibles. “The HOT team is seeking more clarification,” he added.
       Hasling was contacted by the Pioneer because of a Gazette article Dec. 4 about increasing numbers of fires in local homeless/transient camps, which quoted Hasling as saying that on cold nights “people have a right to stay warm.”
       This comment contrasted with what he had written in a November e-mail - included in a Pioneer article (see this link) - that “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.”
       The Pioneer sought information from Hasling then because a business owner near Fountain Creek - concerned about such campfires burning out of control - claimed he'd heard comments from some emergency responders, that “stay-warm fires" were being allowed for illegal campers.
       Talking to the Pioneer Dec. 4, Hasling pointed out that the city has had nearly 100 fires initiated at homeless camps this year and commented that “we sure don't want another Waldo Canyon Fire.”
       But at the same time he said he stands by his quote about people having “a right to stay warm.”
       He did not dispute that many of the illegal camps include people who are drinking or doing drugs, but emphasized that many other campers find themselves homeless unwillingly.
       An e-mail to the Pioneer last winter from City Fire Battalion Chief Steve Wilch, after firefighters were called out repeatedly to douse homeless-camp fires off the Martin Luther King Bypass, stated that “the cause of many of these fires after investigation is determined to be accident due to a careless act.”
       The city website, under the heading of “Recreational Fires,” cites 2009 International Fire Code 302, summarizing that such fires are “intended for cooking, warmth, religious, ceremonial, or other special purposes. They must not have a total fuel area greater than 3 feet in diameter and must be less than 2 feet in height. This type of fire must be at least 25 feet away from a structure or combustible materials and must not at any point move any closer to the structure than the stated 25-foot distance.”
       Hasling did not dispute a Pioneer suggestion that the code was probably not written with fires from homeless camps in mind.
       The HOT team is a Police Department-designated group of officers, who work with people on the streets, seeking to help them find healthier alternatives than camping illegally and citing them when they deem it appropriate. However, when there is no room at local shelters, police have repeatedly made it clear that they let the camps remain.

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Public Safety)

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