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It didn't damage the store, but it got a lot of attention -- and a focus on homelessness

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - An explosion followed by a huge fire erupted at a tent inhabited by a homeless person behind the Woodstock Bi-Mart store awakened neighbors at dawn on June 15th and made ashes of the tent and surrounding belongings and trash. The store itself was not damaged.For months, the inhabitants of tents at the sidewalk behind the Woodstock Bi-Mart Store, on S.E. Ramona Street, have kept neighbors awake in the late night and early morning hours. Neighbors attest that drugs are bought, sold, and shot up, even in daylight. A couple of campers are keeping their trash to a minimum, but some are not.

Not all homeless people are making these kinds of problems there, but a few "bad eggs" camped behind the popular store are causing a lot of trouble, headaches, and heartache.

As dawn was breaking on Tuesday morning, June 15th, the overnight sidewalk activity had simmered down – and then the early morning quiet was shattered by two loud booms. Within seconds, twenty-foot-high flames were shooting into the sky along with plumes of gray smoke. A few neighbors looked out their windows in shock, or ran outside in night clothes.

The fire was far enough away from the back of the store that the building was not damaged. To date, the cause officially is unknown, although many spray paint cans were found in the heap of ashes at the site afterward – but spray cans don't cause such huge explosions and fire. A day later, the owner of the block as well as a neighbor informed THE BEE that plastic tarps, tents, and miscellaneous plastic materials – once ignited – can erupt into huge flames, because they are made with petroleum products. There has been no determination of what caused the original explosions.

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Later in the day, the intensity of the mornings sidewalk explosion and fire behind Bi-Mart on June 15th was evident in the destruction and ashes left behind.When the building's owner came by later in the day to clean up the mess, he was told that the occupant of the burnt tent – who was also responsible for a huge pile of trash – had taken off on his bike as the fire truck arrived, reportedly remarking that his hasty departure was "to find the person who had lit the fire."

The record does show that many reports, both to 9-1-1 and to police non-emergency, have been registered over the past two months about the night-time disruptions at that location at those tents. Other agencies have also been contacted, as well as city officials, in attempts to find a way to restore peace to the neighborhood.

At one point, "Street Roots Ambassadors" came out to these tents and talked with the inhabitants; housing was found for two of them. Others refused the offers of help, so solutions to homelessness and related neighborhood disturbances continue to be pursued in and around the Woodstock business district.


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