A plateless Chevy Travel Master RV caught fire early Saturday morning at the intersection of 14th Ave. and Marion St. in Capitol Hill.
"I heard a blast and it shook the whole house. I actually thought it was an earthquake. ... I saw, out of my periphery, [an] orange light. And I saw a big fireball," said Elizabeth Mars, who lives just two houses away from where the RV exploded around 1:15 a.m.
Mars and several other neighbors called 911, whose operators dispatched firefighters and police officers to the scene. She also added that she believes that the person living in the RV was probably homeless and had been seen entering and exiting the vehicle five to 10 minutes before it caught fire.
The flames were quickly extinguished, but the vehicle, in addition to debris from the explosion, remained on the street corner well into Monday afternoon. Power lines above the RV's carcass were frayed by the flames. No one was injured.
"[The vehicle], I think, had just arrived that night," said Mars. "As far as this vehicle, my roommate also said that it shows up about once a month and people are living in it. It stays parked here for a week and then moves elsewhere."
According to Seattle Fire Department and Seattle Police Department officials, the fire's official cause has not yet been determined and the incident is still under investigation. However, residents like Mars have speculated that it was caused by a propane tank inside the RV's kitchen area, similar to how another RV caught fire in an Interbay encampment in February.
Howard Lev, who lives just one house south of the explosion, said nomadic RVs had become more common along 14th Ave.
Considering the city's low stock of housing options for low-income people, this makes sense. At the beginning of the year, during the one-night count on homelessness in King County, 4,505 people were sleeping in unsheltered areas across the county, some of whom lived in their vehicles.
The Community Housing Caucus presented recommendations to Mayor Ed Murray's HALA committee two weeks ago. One of the suggestions included in the report was to "provide public land for parking of RVs, trucks, vans, and autos that people are currently using for housing." The group's recommendations also included ensuring housing unstable people also had access to things like toilets. (You can read the rest of CHC's report here.)
The City opened three temporary safe parking zones in January – but they don't necessarily appeal to homeless people with vehicles. After all, the City's encampments are relatively restrictive, banning RV residents from using cooking stoves and propane heaters, among other activities.
As Heidi explained, if city officials want to get Seattle's homeless inside, they must offer people struggling with homelessness realistic alternatives: access to services like addiction treatment and low-barrier shelters that welcome families and pets.
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