San Jose

Fire Breaks Out at Homeless Encampment on Apple Property in San Jose

The fire in a lot at North First Street and Component Drive burned about five acres and a mobile home

NBC Universal, Inc.

Flames on Wednesday swept through an empty San Jose lot that is owned by Apple but is currently home to dozens of homeless people.

The fire at the corner of North First Street and Component Drive consumed about five acres of land and a mobile home.

Robert, who lives at the encampment, raced over to help when he saw the flames.

"Didn’t want it to spread and I also needed to warn everybody else there was a fire in the field, make sure everybody wasn't home," he said.

Robert said the encampment has been his home for the past year. He's grateful no one has removed the encampment yet.

"Some of us are making a mess, which we’re trying to really clean up right now," Robert said. "We thank Apple for letting us stay here as long as they have. We’re trying to do our best to get out. Hopefully they understand."

The city estimates there are now more than 30 people living at the growing encampment. There is an estimated 200 tons of hazardous trash and debris. The encampment is filled with mobile homes and makeshift wooden structures.

Any responsibility on cleanup or removal lies with Apple, which bought the property two years ago.

An Apple spokeswoman said the company is working with the city and nonprofit partners on a solution for the site. The spokeswoman also said part of the $2.5 billion the company pledged to combat the housing crisis in California will build long-term affordable housing on the property.

Peter Miron-Conk, an advocate for homeless people, said for a big picture solution, local governments need to start using vacant land for people to live on.

"They can withstand the pressure from the neighborhoods and say, ‘This is our job. This is the humane thing to do. We’re going to put a project here,'" Miron-Conk said.

The city estimates there are 200 encampments throughout San Jose. At last count two years ago, about 6,000 people were without a home. Advocates for homeless people say both numbers are likely much higher now.

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