ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) had a busy night Wednesday responding to around 30 fires in the metro between dusk and dawn. With a court injunction now banning the city from clearing homeless encampments in public spaces, News 13 spoke with AFR about the volume of fires they’re seeing.
Blaze after blaze, AFR has been called to put out fires left and right over the past 24 hours. “Approximately 30 outside fires were dispatched between basically sunset and about dawn this morning,” said Lieutenant Jason Fejer, public information officer with AFR, “When we see the weather change and we see the increase in fires, it usually does have to do with people trying to stay warm.”
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Fejer said the majority of these calls are ‘outside fires.’ “It can be warming fires, campfires, barbecue pits. Sometimes people burning in their backyards will result in an outside fire callout. So it’s a wide range of calls and last year we ran about 6500 outside fires,” Fejer said.
So far this year, there have been more than 3,300 of those calls, with about 75 percent needing to be put out by firefighters.
Between early Wednesday morning and Wednesday night, two ‘outside fires’ ended up catching buildings on fire: one at a food mart on Louisiana, and the other at a gas station on Menaul in Uptown. Another major fire burned a hotel on Menaul Wednesday morning—that fire started from the inside.
“It was obviously an outside fire and both of them threatened the structures so you know an outside fire is typically a one truck response; when it threatens a structure then it increases exponentially in how many units we send,” Fejer said.
He said AFR is looking at changing their staffing model, or even having a dedicated truck to run to these types of fires. “The trucks that are already some of the busiest apparatus are the ones that are also seeing the majority of these outside fires. So that makes up for a lot of sleepless nights for these trucks, so we’re trying to look at some ways to maybe spread that workload around,” Fejer said.
With a court injunction stopping the city from clearing homeless camps taking effect Wednesday, there are worries about even more fires this season. However, AFR has a simple message: “If people call, we go out. I think it’s the important part about our job: is we don’t care what it is or who’s calling. If somebody needs help, we respond. And so there’s, you know, some of this stuff that’s revolving [with] that court case and what we’re going to do with encampments and from our point of view: it doesn’t matter who calls. It doesn’t matter where the call is at. If there’s a fire to be put out or people that need help, we’re going to respond,” Fejer said.
In a statement on the new injunction, Mayor Keller’s administration sent News 13 a statement reading:
“The City has asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to intervene and have also requested clarification about the scope of the injunction from the district court but has not yet received a ruling from either court.
“Before the injunction was entered, the City increased shelter and storage capacity for those willing to accept. The City was also providing notice to those illegally camping before they are required to move. There are shelter beds available in Albuquerque, including the additional winter shelter beds we opened at Gateway this week. The City will continue to offer those beds to anyone camping in public areas.“