Berkeley businesses call for action after fire at homeless encampment

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Business owners and employees are calling on the Berkeley City Council to step up after another homeless encampment fire. (KGO-TV)

Business owners and employees are calling on the Berkeley City Council to step up after another homeless encampment fire.

This one happened just before 10 a.m. Friday off the freeway along Eastshore Highway and close to an oxygen tank used by Pacific Steel Casting company.

"If the thing had a chance of blowing up, we'd have a huge explosion," said Krishnan Venkatesan.

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One person was treated on the scene for a minor injury, according to Berkeley Fire Department.

Nearby, employees say the problems extend beyond recurring fires.

"I'm escorted from the business to my vehicle, because I'm in fear of being assaulted," said Julianna Johnson, a manager at Automatic Response Systems Berkeley Shreds.

Johnson says there's also the issue of food piling up.

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"There's rats, and rats, and rats."

"The police have basically told us their hands are tied, and it's up to the city council to do something," said Venkatesan.

A Berkeley City spokesperson told ABC7 News the city council is aware of the site and issues there. They are evaluating next steps, he said.

He also noted all encampments are addressed on an individual basis and looking at health and safety concerns play a central role in determining which action is most appropriate.

Frank Johnson said he's been living at the homeless encampment since his custom wrought iron shop closed.

"All homeless people's stories are different," he said.

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Johnson has his own suggestions for what what he'd like to see council do.

"They should put some toilets in, make it easier for us to get showers and give us a dumpster to put our garbage in," he said.

For now, employees of nearby businesses say they continue to call 311 often.

"What I'd like to see happen is for them to have someplace to go," said Julianna Johnson.

But Venkatesan is worried another fire could ignite again: "It's going to happen again soon, it's just a matter of time."

The Berkeley Fire Department said preliminary reports suggest Friday's fire was caused accidentally by carelessness with a cigarette.
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