If you saw the black smoke plume near the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge earlier this afternoon, here's the deal:

At some point around 2:30 pm, a group of three to five tents beneath a highway viaduct caught fire, according to Portland Fire and Rescue's Lt. Rich Chatman. One firefighter on scene said it was possibly because of someone smoking in bed, but that it was under investigation. Calls to 911 dispatchers described sounds like fireworks, which were apparently small, camp-stove-style propane tanks exploding, Chatman said.

This is very near where the Portland Development Commission cleared a large camp yesterday, but there are still a lot of people staying in the area. No one was injured by the fire, and it was out quickly.


Camps like those under the Hawthorne Bridge aren't supposed to fly, according to a new policy Mayor Charlie Hales' office laid out in early February. That experimental policy has been applauded by homeless advocates as one of the more nuanced stances toward camping the city's seen. It allows small groups to camp overnight on "remnant" city properties, acknowledging the city's still working toward building enough shelter and housing for its homeless population.

But the policy also says groups of campers larger than six people won't be allowed in any one location, and should take their tents down in the morning.