Last week, there were three significant homeless-related fire or fire hazard incidents around critical bridge infrastructure in Seattle: the RV fire under the Spokane Street viaduct/West Seattle Bridge on April 6, a propane tank explosion and fire underneath I-90/Edgar Martinez Way near Airport Way (across from the Field) on April 5, and removal of 26 propane tanks stacked around the base of a Magnolia bridge support column adjacent to a homeless encampment on April 4.
Camping under low bridge structures can present a hazard for the City’s essential infrastructure, especially when there are concentrations of flammable materials such as pallets and mattresses, and a likelihood of open flames or vehicles with mechanical issues. SDOT engineers are particularly concerned about the concentration of approximately 30 RVs underneath the western most end of Spokane Street where the structure is the lowest because RVs are composed of a combination of chemicals and flammable materials that burn very hot and present a significant danger to bridge infrastructure. According to SDOT, RVs include many of the same chemicals that brought down I-85 in Atlanta last week.
“Safety is our priority and having encampments and recreational vehicles under the West Seattle Bridge poses public safety risks especially if there are flammable/volatile materials being used to cook and heat inside the vehicles,” said Scott Kubly, SDOT director. “We are working with other City agencies to ensure maintenance access under our structures by keeping the area clear of potentially hazardous materials.”
“The Seattle Fire Department has responded to a number of fires under the Spokane Street viaduct, including one last week where two RVs were destroyed and another in January where a man died in an RV fire. The concentration of occupied vehicles, tents, pallets, furniture and debris under the low bridge structure has created a specific fire hazard that needs to be addressed for the safety of the vulnerable people living there and the bridge itself,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.
The City is addressing the immediate hazard where the RV fire occurred last week, clearing that area of any RVs, vehicles, tents and other materials. SDOT has set a perimeter that encompasses the median along Spokane Street, from under the base of the West Seattle Bridge to Colorado Street on the east, that must be cleared. That area will then be fenced off to allow SDOT and Seattle City Light to perform repairs and maintenance, including following up on necessary lighting system repairs.
On Friday, April 7, the City provided notice to individuals who were on site that clearing of the area within the perimeter described above would begin on Tuesday, April 11. Recognizing the large number of RVs and other vehicles present, many of which are not operational, the City expects this effort will take several days, possibly into next week. The Navigation Team has also been offering services and alternative shelter to these individuals, outreach that will continue as long as necessary.
Additionally, on Friday the City began notifying RVs and vehicles parked all along the median under the Spokane Street viaduct to the east of the perimeter at Colorado Street that the City will be focusing enforcement of the 72-hour parking law. SPD is assisting with notification and will be leading that enforcement effort as the Navigation Team focuses its outreach efforts on people living in tents in that area.
In general, the City has been focusing its efforts to address the homelessness crisis on working with individuals in tent encampments, especially the ones with the greatest public health and safety concerns for the individuals and the surrounding community. The Navigation Team has been finding success with many individuals, finding solutions that fit their needs and helping move them into safer living situations. Other City crews are addressing the trash related to encampments and illegal dumping in general around the city. In addition to these efforts, we will be assessing these low bridge structures around the city and will prioritize efforts to address immediate hazards.