DENVER (KDVR) — Video shows a fire and explosion at a homeless encampment in Denver on Thursday afternoon. It happened near 16th Avenue and Sherman Street.
No one was hurt, but the incident came as Denver Mayor Mike Johnston is working to address homelessness in the city. Johnston hosted a town hall Thursday at Evans School in District 10.
According to Johnston, 8,000 calls were made to 911 about encampments so far this year.
While no one was hurt in the fire Thursday, Johnston said 40 unhoused people have died of various causes in the last six to eight weeks alone.
Witness: Propane tanks exploding in tent
FOX31 visited the encampment where the fire broke out.
“The person’s tent right here, I think something caught on fire, which made it lead to a bigger fire,” said Monet Jutzi, who lives just a couple of tents from where the fire started.
“We all had to move ’cause I think there’s tanks in there that was exploding … propane tanks,” Jutzi said.
The tanks are meant to keep folks warm when it’s cold, Jutzi said.
At the Evans School, Johnston met with neighbors in District 10 on homelessness, many wanting a humane but solid solution.
“This is already a bad situation because of the drug use and the garbage and the refuse and the human waste. It’s not a pretty situation,” said Randal Kelly, a Denver resident.
Johnston pitched his idea of setting up 11 micro-communities in different spots in the city — places where unhoused people would have homes and be taken off the streets.
“I don’t think the mayor would want it in his backyard,” Kelly said. “I don’t think any of the Denver folks would want it in their backyard.”
‘A fire is a fire is a fire’
The incident at 16th and Sherman was enough proof for some folks that safety is a major priority.
“It’s scary for the rest of us that live here, because a fire is a fire is a fire,” Joann Rose, another Denver resident, said.
Johnston has this problem to fix, one he said has gotten worse since before he was in office.
“We have now more than 1,500 people who are living unsheltered on the streets of Denver every single night,” Johnston said. “Five years ago, we had 500 people who were unsheltered, so this number is 300% worse.”
The mayor’s goal is to house 1,000 people by the end of the year.
Some residents worried about how long these communities might stay up. Johnston said zoning allows them to exist between two to four years.