After a fire last week burned part of a homeless encampment in East Vancouver, the Washington State Department of Transportation is clearing that side of the encampment for good.
Camp, name Swamps by its residents, is located at the intersection of Northeast 107th Avenue and 53rd Street. People used to live on both sides of the road, tents stretched far into the forest.
Now, people on the west side of the road where the fire broke out on March 3 have been evacuated after WSDOT, which owns the land, issued a 72-hour evacuation notice.
What used to be a busy camper community now looks like a wasteland.
A “No Trespassing” sign is attached to a chain-link fence erected by WSDOT to block off the burned portion of the camp. Above it is a “For Sale” sign as the department continues to try to sell the property, so far without success. Behind him are piles of burnt things, wood and garbage.
WSDOT plans to protect the site and leave it vacant, according to Bill Morrison, WSDOT’s assistant regional administrator for maintenance and operations. The fence is designed to prevent people from entering the area.
If you are homeless and looking for help, call the Council on Homeless Housing Helpline at 360-695-9677.
“It’s the only way we can really keep it vacant,” Morrison said. “Obviously fencing doesn’t always stop it, but we’ll hope it does.”
People can still camp on the side of the street not affected by the fire, which remains unfenced.
Many people who lived in the affected area crossed the street to the camp from the other side, according to residents of the Swamps. Robert Anderson, who has lived in The Swamps for about four years, is among those who have moved to the other shore.
According to Anderson, it was a heating fire that started the fire. He noted that he did not have a work phone, so he was unable to immediately call 911.
The Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office has not yet released an official cause of the fire; attempts to reach the office Thursday were unsuccessful.
The amount of clutter in the camp, along with the fires people light to keep warm in the winter, make the Marshes a particularly fire-prone place.
“It was growing fast,” Anderson said, adding that he was awake and cooking when his home caught fire in the middle of the night.
Anderson has taken up residence on the opposite side of the camp, but he doesn’t plan to stay, he said. He knows that WSDOT is trying to sell the property so all the residents will have to leave soon, although he doesn’t know where it will go.
Peter, a former Swamps resident who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons, said many residents struggle with physical and mental health issues.
“I left here because there was too much trash,” said Peter, who now couchsurfs but visits The Swamps from time to time. “I just hope they have a next plan for these people because they have nowhere else to go.”
In the meantime, WSDOT crews continue to clear debris — not only from the fire, but also from years of trash and discarded items.
“They’ve been loading the material there for at least two days and plan to work through the weekend and possibly into next week to clean it up,” Morrison said.