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Brush Fire In Sepulveda Basin Caused 'Pure Pandemonium' Among Homeless Forced To Evacuate

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A Los Angeles firefighter mops up a small brush fire that forced dozens of homeless people in the Sepulveda Basin to evacuate on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Chava Sanchez/LAist )
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By Melissa Leu and Emily Elena Dudgdale

A fire that tore through a homeless encampment in the Sepulveda Basin Tuesday night displaced about 100 people and burned an estimated 1.5 to 2 acres.

As the fire burned near Balboa Park, dozens of homeless people were evacuated. The blaze started about 3:30 p.m. in an area known to a popular location for homeless people. About 100 firefighters arrived on scene to fight the fire and get everyone to safety.

Steve Windham, 58, who was evacuated from the encampment, said the scene was "pure pandemonium."

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Windham was still at the site when Los Angeles firefighters sprayed down the last of the embers on a tangled pile of shopping carts, tarps and clothing.

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About 100 firefighters helped put out a brush fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon near Balboa Lake, forcing as many as 100 homeless people residing there to evacuate. (Courtesy of NBC Los Angeles)

He said he'd lived there for 2 1/2 years and even had a fire extinguisher at his campsite. But this fire crept up on them.

"I heard some sizzling like frying bacon on a frying pan. Next thing I heard was a woman yelling 'fire, fire, fire,'" he said, adding he and others living in the encampment tried to put out the fire. Windham said the wind carried the flames to a neighboring compound and kept going.

"It was scary, scary all the way around," said Windham.

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"I lost everything," he said. "The whole thing is just heartbreaking."

Windham said others had lived at the location for more than 10 years.

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Steve Windham has lived in the encampment for two and a half years. He was alerted to the fire when he "heard some bacon, like sizzling on a frying pan." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Outreach workers with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) passed out water bottles and business cards to displaced camp residents.

Authorities said they stopped the fire from advancing by about 5:10 p.m. No injuries were reported, and no permanent structures were damaged, according to LAFD officials

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"The challenge of course is what they left behind, such things as their infrastructure, their precious belongings and their propane tanks which appeared to have exploded in the fire," LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

For his part, as clean-up operations went on around him, Windham said he had nowhere to go that night.

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Officials said as many as 100 homeless people were forced to evacuate, leaving their belongings behind, after a brush fire broke out in the Sepulveda Basin on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

"We do know that the fire did involve homeless encampments, vegetation and was fueled by some propane tanks in the area, but the specific cause that sparked the blaze has yet to be determined," Humphrey said.

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As part of the mop-up, bulldozers would be used to clear the land, and any hazards or equipment would be removed, LAFD Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Butler told CBS LA.

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(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Butler also said at a news conference that L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has activated a homelessness response team to help those who were displaced.

"Today is a day of low wildfire danger in the city of Los Angeles. When we see brush on a low-fire danger day being this volatile, it reminds us we have difficult days ahead," Humphey told ABC7.

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Officials said as many as 100 homeless people were forced to evacuate after a brush fire broke out in the Sepulveda Basin on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Officials said as many as 100 homeless people were forced to evacuate, leaving their belongings behind, after a brush fire broke out in the Sepulveda Basin on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Kitty Luo and Emily Henderson contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

11:15 p.m: This article was updated with additional reporting from the site.

7:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a photo of and statement from one of the residents of the homeless encampment.

7:00 p.m.: This article was updated with new photos and information about the use of bulldozers to clear the land.

5:42 p.m.: This article was updated with more details about homeless evacuations and logistics of the fire.

5:08 p.m.: This article was updated with information from a news conferences with Butler.

4:49 p.m.: This article was updated with a quote from LAFD.

This article was originally published at 4:20 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled fire spokesman Brian Humphrey's last name. LAist regrets the error.

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