Portland Bans Homeless Encampments in Forested Areas Over Concerns of Wildfire

Portland, Oregon has prohibited homeless people from camping in forested areas to protect them from getting hurt by wildfires or accidentally igniting the fires themselves, the Associated Press reported. The order, enacted by the City Council Wednesday, comes amid a summer of severe drought and record heat for the city.

The rule applies to "high-risk hazard zones," such as Portland's Forest Park and the surrounding areas. Homeless people are also prohibited from camping in the forested wetlands and natural areas that surround the city.

The Oregonian reported that there have been recurrent reports of fires at unauthorized encampments and groups of RVs stationed around Portland. The City Council's order will last throughout the rest of wildfire season, as well as any time a burn ban for the county is in force.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wildfire Haze in Portland
Portland, Oregon, has banned homeless people from camping in certain forested areas in and around the city to prevent them from getting hurt by or accidentally causing a fire. Shown, a man crosses a street in downtown Portland where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

The 8-square-mile Forest Park in the heart of Portland is one of the largest urban forests in the U.S.

The city stressed that the rule was to prevent fires from starting in the city but also to protect homeless people from blazes started near encampments by others.

Nonprofit groups working with the city will visit the camps, provide information about fire risk and help residents relocate voluntarily before any aggressive sweeps take place, the newspaper said.

"I do not like sweeps, and I do not like that we have a shortage of housing that people can afford to live in," Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said. "But I cannot stand by and do nothing as people are at risk of dying by fire."

Detailed maps of high-risk areas prepared by the city's fire marshal will help campers know where they can't live, said Kaia Sand, director of Street Roots, an advocacy group for people experiencing homelessness and weekly alternative newspaper. But she said the solution is "half baked" unless the city also provides safe places for displaced residents to go.

"The fact that our city removes people without good alternatives for them to live has always been a problem and continues to be a problem," she said.

A historic drought and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Helicopter Fights Oregon Wildfires
A brutal start to the wildfire season in the western United States and Canada worsened July 15, 2021 as a massive Oregon blaze exploded in dry, windy conditions and a new California blaze threatened communities devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire. The Bootleg Fire located 27 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon, caught fire nine days ago on July 6, 2021, due to an unknown cause. A helicopter flies with a load of water to the Bootleg Fire, 27 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, near Bly, Oregon on July 15, 2021. Payton Bruni/AFP via Getty Images