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300 plus fires from homeless camps this year: El Paso County fire chiefs call for change

Posted at 8:32 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 22:32:43-04

EL PASO COUNTY — “This year, El Paso County firefighters have responded to well over 300 homeless camp fires. And they continue to grow in severity,” said Stratmoor Hills Fire Chief, Shawn Brittle.

Brittle and a half dozen other fire chiefs who are part of the El Paso County Fire Cheif’s Council just went before El Paso County Commissioners asking for more investment in dealing with the issue of fires caused by homeless camps.

The move by the coalition is motivated by a fire in an enclave of homeless camps earlier this month in the Stratmoor Hills area of the county.

The mix of camps on private property is in violation of county codes.

A fire started at one camp then spread to multiple others.

Chief Bittle said the fire was dngerously close to near-by neighborhoods.

“We absolutely could have lost 20 or 30 homes very rapidly.”

Neighbors have complained about the encampment, but because it is on private property the owner lives out of town the process of enforcement has been difficult and slow.

“I know that we have to follow the law by the letter,” said Bittle, “However, if you as a private citizen, violate code within your community and within your subdivision, you would be held accountable immediately. And that's what we're looking for is swift action, that we can reduce the fire threat and the public safety danger,” said Bittle.

“I think we all agree with you,” said El Paso County Commissioner, Longinos Gonzalez.

The coalition of fire chiefs said everyone should have shelter, but it should not be a public safety risk to both people with and without homes.

Bittle said, “We just want to try to work with the county commission to make sure that we have laws and legislation in place where we can move quickly and aggressively to make sure that our taxpaying citizens, as well as our non taxpaying citizens are always safe.

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