OAKLAND (KPIX) — A deadly fire at a homeless encampment in West Oakland Tuesday was the last straw for Caltrans, with agency officials saying the camp under Interstate 880 must go.
One person was killed and three motorhomes and two cars were destroyed on Tuesday afternoon in the deadly blaze that sent a huge plume of black smoke overhead. Five people who lived in the camp were displaced.
A man died in his motorhome as a fire engulfed his vehicle which was parked at the Wood St. campground in #Oakland this afternoon. According to OFD, the fire spread from an RV to the one where the deceased was discovered. A total of five vehicles were destroyed. @KPIXtv pic.twitter.com/fQ3QTjqs6I
— BrianKPIX (@brianyuenKPIX) April 5, 2022
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KPIX 5 has learned that Caltrans has decided that the massive encampment under Interstate 880 needs to be cleared, and soon.
The agency said Tuesday’s deadly RV fire was one of more than 100 fires in recent years. Planning is now underway for a full-scale response.
The Wood Street camp starts just north of the old 16th Street train station and extends almost to the 580 interchange. It’s about three-quarters of a mile.
For the hundreds of people living in the camp, the deadly fire could be the cause of their next move.
“You know, I knew a life would be lost sooner or later,” said camp resident Dearlean Bailey. “I told people it was coming.”
Bailey lives about 100 yards from the scene of Tuesday’s fire. It didn’t surprise her, and she’s also not surprised to learn that Caltrans is now talking about acting.
“There are several different entities there,” said Cheryl Chambers, Caltrans’ assistant district manager for external affairs. “East Bay MUD, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, City of Oakland, ourselves. So all of us
need to get together and talk about what needs to happen in a short period of time.
Caltrans told KPIX that all of those parties will meet before the end of the week to begin discussing some sort of resolution for the encampment. The agency said that would involve moving everyone.
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“The goal is to clear the area of a lot of abandoned cars and debris, and move people to safer conditions, yes,” Chambers explained.
According to the agency’s estimate, this could mean the relocation of more than 100 people.
“It will be a mixed bag,” said Richard, an occasional camp resident. “Some people are ready for it. Some people will say ‘No!’ for all time.”
“A lot of people would rather be here, be free, and I have to pay bills,” Bailey said. “I prefer to pay the bills and we broke myself in one place. Yes. I would take it.
“There have been people in this area for years,” Chambers said. “They have a sense of belonging, and we were aware of that. But at the same time, just look at the reality. What happened yesterday must be avoided.
“I think we’ve been very patient here,” said nearby business owner Terry Caughell. “Beyond the patient. And I think it’s really time to do something. Yesterday’s fire was important.
Area business owners like Caughell are ready for change.
“It’s truly beyond description,” Caughell said. “You know, I’ve been visited by people from out of state, vendors. Even after I tell them what’s going on and give them, if you will, fair warning, when they get here, they still can’t believe what’s going on here. And it’s been going on for about 4-5 years.
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Caltrans says meetings will take place in the coming days. They hope for some kind of formal strategy in the coming weeks.