A Second Houseless Person in Two Months Has Died From a Fire Intended for Warmth

A 27-year-old houseless man died from third-degree burns covering his entire body.

The Oregon Convention Center will be used as a winter warming shelter. (Sam Gehrke)

In the early morning of Feb. 9, Portland Fire & Rescue responded to a fire beneath an overpass at North Vancouver Avenue and Columbia Boulevard that was started by someone who created a shelter and was using the fire to keep warm in frigid temperatures.

The 27-year-old man managed to get out from the shelter before the firefighters arrived. But he suffered third-degree burns on his entire body and died shortly after medics tried to treat him at Emanuel Hospital Burn Center.

He is the second person in Portland over the past two months to die in a fire started to keep warm while sleeping outside. On Dec. 17, a person died after a candle inside their tent was knocked over and set the tent on fire.

Firefighters have responded to multiple accidental fires outdoors this winter.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in charge of the fire bureau, called for support for Portland's houseless community during the pandemic.

"I am heartbroken to learn that a community member experiencing houselessness has died while trying to tend to their most basic needs of shelter and warmth," she said in a press release. "This is precisely why we need to urgently move forward with sanctioned camping, tiny home villages, safe RV parking, and other forms of low-barrier, transitional housing that provides a higher degree of safety and stability for those currently sleeping on our streets. Moving these projects forward will make Portland safer for everyone. We can and must do better."

Portland overnight temperatures are expected to dip into the high 20s on Thursday and Friday nights, and snow is forecast through Saturday.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services expects to open several warming shelters starting Thursday evening, including one at the Oregon Convention Center. The office has distributed 623 blankets, 446 sleeping bags and 1,018 pairs of gloves to street outreach teams, starting Feb. 9.

More details on how to stay warm this week can be found here.

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