A homeless encampment caught fire on Wednesday afternoon inside a cement structure guarding the base of Portland’s Steel Bridge.
Fire crews responding to the scene found heavy smoke coming from the structure and did not see a way to get inside, according to Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves.
“In order to gain access, we utilized large heavy objects, mallets, sledgehammers and a TNT tool to gain access,” Graves said. “Found heavy fire of items that had been brought underneath this particular area, that people seem to be just using as their living space.”
One person was seriously injured and taken to a nearby hospital. Graves said several people had been living inside the structure.
“They had done some tunneling of spaces to create individual living areas,” he said. “As well as taking sloped soils that were up against the structure of the bridge itself and terracing those off for flat spaces.”
He also said the conditions inside were extremely dangerous for firefighters.
“We are extremely concerned about the vulnerable population out there, and want to do everything we possibly can to allow them to succeed, and provide them opportunities and locations where they can launch themselves from,” he said. “And these unsanctioned camps are dangerous for everybody — the individuals that are living within them, and those that are tasked with entering them to mitigate issues, whether it be illnesses or injuries or fires.”
Graves said the area where the fire occurred was not a load-bearing structure for the bridge. Still, traffic officials have closed the eastbound onramp to the bridge indefinitely to clean and assess whether there was any damage to the bridge framework or roadways.