Fire danger with squatter camps grows with winter approaching

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Photo by Dave Pelham

Photo by Dave Pelham

“The problem is not necessarily the squatter camps, it’s that there are people who are homeless,” said Chief Patrick Reitz, Idyllwild Fire Protection District. “It’s unfortunate that we have this homelessness. We’re aware of the camps but because they’re on private property, we’re limited in what we can do.”

Reitz said fire marshals have been to the site on a 40-acre, undeveloped parcel owned by Charlene Lane. The parcel is at the bend leading south out of Idyllwild on Highway 243. “Every jurisdiction is limited in its legal ability to respond,” said Reitz. “Because it’s on private property, we can’t just go in and evict [the squatters]. The problem is complicated if the owner is absentee. She still remains responsible if she has not taken steps [to remove the camps].”

Reitz said his agency and the U.S. Forest Service know of the camps. But even if the 40-acre parcel is cleared, homeless people will likely just move to other forest sites.

Olivia Barnes, staff for Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington, said Code Enforcement had been out to the property and is working with the owner to get “No Trespassing” signs posted. “A key component [in clearing the illegal camps] is the cooperation of the property owner,” said Barnes. Once signs are posted, denoting the illegality of trespass, arrests could be made, according to Barnes.

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