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Three injured from ‘warming fires’ in Portland, Oregon

January 3, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — At least three unsheltered people attempting to stay warm during last week’s frigid weather were injured from fires in Portland, Oregon.

Ahead of below freezing temperatures and snow, which began Dec. 25, forecasters and state officials warned the winter weather could lead to hypothermia and that those most likely impacted would be people experiencing homelessness.

Officials in Multnomah County, home to Portland, have reported that at least one person died from exposure to cold temperatures last month. The 76-year-old man who died was not homeless but was found unresponsive outdoors.

On New Year’s Day, crews from Portland Fire and Rescue responded to three people injured from two “warming fires”.

The first person injured, a man in his 40′s, had second-degree burns to one of his hands from the use of an accelerant. Shortly after, crews responded to a tent fire where a man and woman had severe burns to their lower extremities. Both were taken to the hospital. Officials say the fire was started by a loose hose attached to a propane heater inside the tent, which leaked and caused flames to ignite.

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During the cold snap, at least seven warming shelters — which housed hundreds of people a night — opened. In addition, thousands of sleeping bags, blankets, tents, tarps, ponchos, hand warmers, gloves, wats, sweatshirts and socks were handed out to people on Portland’s streets.

“We set up 7 shelters equitably throughout the County, with the capacity of 700 beds for people to come into, with the ability to expand. And we did it over two holidays,” said Celeste Duvall, the Unsheltered Emergency Program specialist for the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

In Multnomah County, more than 4,000 people experienced homelessness in 2019 — the most recent year of data available — half were “unsheltered,” or sleeping outside.

Oregon has a higher rate of people experiencing homelessness than nearly every other state in the country.

A 2020 federal review found that 35 people in Oregon are experiencing homelessness per 10,000. Only three states had a higher rate: New York (47 people per 10,000), Hawaii (46 people per 10,000) and California (41 people per 10,000).

As forecasts show warmer weather for the Portland area this week, Multnomah County officials closed the weather shelters on Sunday. Departing guests were being provided with public transportation passes and cold-weather supplies.

However, severe weather shelters can reopen if any of the following conditions must be met: Temperatures forecasted are at or below 25 degrees; there’s an inch or more of snow; or temperatures drop below 32 degrees with an inch of “driving rain.” The county said it will also open shelters for other conditions, such as severe wind chills or dramatic changes in temperature.

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Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.