Where There’s Smoke, There’s Civic Neglect

These fires have become a Portland epidemic, emblematic of our larger problems.

Portland has some pretty flimsy regulations when it comes to outdoor camp and cooking fires—as well as camping in public spaces. And it can be argued that those weak regulations have contributed to what is now a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis happening throughout our streets.

What once felt like compassion now feels like outright neglect as homeless encampments regularly ignite, burning away what little belongings many camp residents have and threatening adjacent neighborhoods. They’re often visible from the highway, thick plumes of black smoke, heralding at best the loss of a few flammable household items, and at worst the death of residents so many of us are quick to look past.

These fires have become a Portland epidemic, emblematic of our larger problems: weak leadership that favors business over humanity, a constituency torn between kind tolerance and dazed complacency, and a housing crisis illustrated most effectively by tents clustered beside long abandoned buildings, office spaces and often homes. How did we get here, and how do we get better without going backward?

On today’s episode, I welcome Natalie O’Neill, whose cover story this week, “Camp Fires Everywhere,” investigates the cause and effects of campfires burning out of control within city limits. Natalie and I will discuss how her experience meeting neighbors affected by these fires shaped her POV on potential solutions.

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