Abandoned apartment fire highlights impact of cold on homeless

Fire officials said squatters started a small fire inside an abandoned apartment building.

Posted: Oct 28, 2019 11:42 PM
Updated: Oct 29, 2019 10:01 AM

EUGENE, Ore. -- A small apartment fire was stopped quickly by Eugene-Springfield firefighters Monday night on the 900 block of Patterson Street.

Fire officials said squatters started a small fire inside an abandoned apartment building. The Eugene Police Department was called in to investigate the illegal trespassers.

Justin MacDonald, who lives next to the abandoned building, said squatters have been a problem for months.

"My girlfriend lives at home, so if that spread to the next building, all of our stuff is in there,” MacDonald said. “I think this is a bigger cataclysm of a bigger homelessness problem that has been going on since I’ve been here for a couple of years.”


With unusual below-freezing temperatures in the forecast over the next few nights, many homeless individuals are seeking shelter from the dangerous cold.

Battalion Chief Mike Caven with Eugene-Springfield Fire said abandoned buildings are sought out by those seeking shelter and they will start fires to stay warm.

"I understand as it gets cold, people are looking for shelter, but these can be quite dangerous; multiple people in an old building like this not fit for use is a big risk,” Caven said.

There are warming centers for homeless individuals but many did not expect temperatures to drop this early on. In Eugene, the only warming shelter open and implementing its cold-weather policy is the Eugen Mission. Sheryl Balthrop, executive director of the Eugene Mission, said her organization fortunately has the resources to open early compared to others.


"We recognize situations like this when the weather is bad -- that is the matter of life or death in some situations,” Balthrop said.

Until more shelters open, MacDonald said another fire in an abandoned building could happen.

"It's not just this building, it’s not just this part of town, all of Eugene is having a problem like this," MacDonald said. "I'm sure it’s going to be another building sometime soon."

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