Editors' note: You probably did not hear about this from the local media, which has been all abuzz lately about a labor dispute in a nearby city, an actor slapping another actor at the Oscars, and our first rainy day in a long time. Our newsroom elves take pride in being able to bring you this story. In reality, though, it's just another story about the neglect of our community by the Powers That Be: out-of-area landlords and apparently uncaring or incapable local governments. The traditional media focus goes elsewhere. Lacking a Mayor and City Council, our neighborhoods and our community never get priority attention. Law enforcement and code compliance are reactive, not proactive. So problems get lip service instead of solutions and, on occasion, erupt. Thus our residents and businesses don't get much value from their municipal taxes.
Saturday night around 9pm, residents of the Cottage Creek neighborhood were startled by an explosion and subsequent fire behind the Costco Business Center building at Country Club Center. The fire burned an empty FedEx trailer and quickly spread to the trailer's tires, intensifying the sense of danger. Neighbors called 911. They tried to extinguish the fire, but without success. After about 10 minutes the firefighters from Metro Fire arrived and quickly put the fire out.
On Sunday morning neighbors spoke to a law enforcement officer investigating the incident. The officer confirmed that a small propane tank explosion had caused the fire, most likely associated with homeless people who had been living behind the building. Referring to part of the propane can, he said the explosion/fire was intentional and would probably be listed as arson. The officer sympathized with the neighbors about the lack of security on the private property adjacent to the neighborhood.
In summary, a propane tank exploded and set a big rig trailer on fire at a shopping center where homeless people have been camping. The fire fighters put the fire out before it got too bad. Arson is suspected. All right, except there are some head scratchers:
- Country Club Center has been letting homeless people camp behind the Costco building. The adjacent residential neighborhood is immediately accessible by two openings in the Center's block wall - openings required by the County when the Center expanded, intended for ease of pedestrian and bicycle access, and routinely used by pedestrians and cyclists. Neighbors have been concerned that the usual issues (litter, sanitation, safety hazards related to open fires or cooking) have gone unattended, that the Center has just ignored the situation. Fire investigators believe there is a link between the homeless camping and the incident. Why did the Center tolerate the homeless camping?
- Homeless individuals are like other people in that they need to stay warm, eat meals, and occasionally get into disputes with other people. Some of them smoke, too. Any of those factors can result in a fire hazard, as experience has shown on several instances in the American River Parkway. It costs money to solve homelessness. It also costs money to put out fires and deal with the property damage caused by fires. Why is it OK to spend money reacting to problems but not OK to spend money preventing problems?
- Metro Fire has a station on Butano across the street from Country Club Center, just a few hundred feet from the site of the fire. The next nearest station is on Fulton next to Town & Country Village. The fire investigator said sometimes Metro Fire “browns out" the Butano station - there’s a crew but no water truck. Why did it take so long for Metro Fire to respond?
By sheer good fortune, the fire did not spread to the Costco building or a nearby office building, trees and the homes in the vicinity. The adjacent neighborhood is very grateful for that. Still, it could have become a much bigger problem. People generally agree that something needs to be done to secure housing for homeless people. Makeshift camping in urban areas, however, is clearly not the answer.