DENVER (KDVR) — The Denver Fire Department reports 130 fires so far in 2023 happened in areas or tents inhabited by those coping with homelessness.

Many living on the streets resort to using various fuel sources for heat, but firefighters say burning anything in a small enclosed space is dangerous.

“It can be really deadly,” Denver Assistant Fire Chief Carly Helwick told FOX31.

Firefighters routinely find propane and butane tanks, oxygen cylinders and other forms of compressed gas in or near encampments. Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, a fire ignited downtown at a sidewalk tent on 22nd Street.

“I heard a really loud boom and it took me a second to realize what was going on, and then I saw huge plumes of black smoke and the flames,” said Alex Pacheco, who works near the area.

Flames and smoke at a tent fire on a Denver sidewalk in daytime
Video shows a tent fire on a sidewalk in downtown Denver. (Credit: Mike Johnson)

Denver Fire did not release an official cause, but the man living in the tent told FOX31 he had a candle and some empty butane tanks inside. He said he was not inside the tent when the fire started and was not injured.

FOX31 obtained exclusive video of another explosion on Sept. 28 near 16th and Sherman streets. No one was injured. The fire is still under investigation.

Compressed gases mean fire danger

Helwick warned that fires caused by compressed gas can spread quickly.

“There can also be projectiles when heated, so when they explode they can go hundreds of yards,” Helwick said.

Some fuel sources are used for more than warmth and cooking.

“They are used for illicit drug use. Sometimes, people just collect them and aren’t even using them, and they just happen to be in the area,” Helwick said.

Compressed gases like propane or butane are not allowed in the public right of way and are confiscated by authorities.

Denver firefighters and police work with those surviving on the streets to provide information about the resources they need.