Friday morning, the latest fire to flare up near Overlook Park in North Portland was caught on video. Fires near the park are becoming a regular problem, neighbors said.
“There have been five fires on the bluff since I have lived here, but most of those have occurred in the last three years,” Rhonda Vaught said.
People living in the neighborhood believe the fires are starting in a homeless camp nearby and that has them concerned.
“It's just really dry so just given our current drought situation the park is just tinder for fire,” said another neighbor, Alex Penney.
Vaught agreed. “It is very dangerous, especially in this time of year, in a drought situation, so it’s not to be messed with."
They've notified city park rangers about the situation and have tried working with the city to come up with a solution. But they're frustrated with what they consider a lack of response.
“Too often I've contacted the city, emailed, made phone calls and I don't get a response even from a constituent coordinator," Alex Penney said. "Do I expect a call from Ted Wheeler? No, I don't. But I would like some kind of a response from city when we raise these issues."
The city resumed moving homeless camps recently after dialing back at the start of the pandemic. Earlier this summer, the city moved a homeless camp located near Laurelhurst Park and one near Sunnyside Elementary School in southeast Portland. Alex Penney would like to see a similar response in her neighborhood.
“Do i feel like people have my back in the city? No, I feel like we're on our own. I think it's ultimately a leadership failure of many, many parts across the city.”
KGW reached out to Commissioner Joann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire and Rescue, to ask about the Overlook fires and the potential danger. Her office provided us with this statement:
“This year in particular Portland is seeing the catastrophic effects of climate change, including the increased fire risk this is causing to our region. As the Fire Commissioner, I’ve been working with Chief Boone, my colleagues, and City bureaus to ensure we have a proactive approach to help mitigate as many fires as we can from any possible cause.
The cause of the fire that occurred last night in Overlook Park is undetermined, but we know the fire impacted a houseless encampment. I’m thankful that at this time, there are no reports of injuries.
The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program regularly works with Portland Fire & Rescue to address fire risks. An Impact Reduction crew will be removing fire debris and evaluating the situation.
The Impact Reduction team has received no filed reports for Overlook Park in the last 60 days through the One Point of Contact program. While it is not clear if the fire was on park property, we will work with Portland Parks Rangers to make sure we have any reports they may have received. If residents see a campsite they believe poses a fire risk or any other safety concerns, they should report it through the One Point of Contract program here for a risk assessment: https://pdxreporter.org/
Residents should call 911 immediately if they see open burning so firefighters can respond, extinguish the flame, and educate all residents in the area about the fire danger. Open burning is currently banned in the City of Portland.
Recently the City Council passed an ordinance restricting camping in wilderness areas that pose an excessive fire risk. In the last year, Portland Fire & Rescue has visited every houseless encampment below the Overlook community to provide information and education on fire prevention and to inform people of the current open burning ban. They have also worked closely with businesses and residents to help them reduce the risk of wildfire and damage that could occur if they are impacted by a fire. Residents can learn more about recent Council action and apply for a wildfire assessment of their property here: https://www.portland.gov/fire/your-safety/reducing-risk-wildfire”