Firefighters Warn About Potential Record Number Of Homeless Along American River

What used to be home to wildlife along the American River in Sacramento is now home to a growing number of homeless people setting up camp.

Video Transcript

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- A slow-moving tragedy, that's what firefighters are calling the area along the American River in Sacramento. A record number of homeless are living near the water.

- CBS 13's Marlee Ginter is live after talking with one firefighter who described it as a scene out of a Mad Max movie, a disaster waiting to happen. Marlee.

MARLEE GINTER: That's right, Elizabeth and Curtis. Many worry that it's just a matter of time before a fire rips through that area. We're talking about potentially hundreds of homeless who've set up camp. They're cooking their food. They're starting warming fires all right in the middle of thick, dry brush.

Michael Harpst calling it a day, another good workout along the American River, but not the best sightseeing.

MICHAEL HARPST: Much worse, much worse.

MARLEE GINTER: What used to be home to wildlife steadily becoming home to more and more homeless and even pets. Tents, clotheslines, blankets all scattered deep in dry brush. Firefighters call it an accident waiting to happen.

MICHAEL HARPST: I mean, we were biking here for the last seven years. And we've seen fires that just swallow the whole big area.

BADER ALAMERI: There's a whole bunch of just dry out, you know, land, and stuff like that. So it's very easy to just burn it, and then especially when it's caravans of people have to cook outside and stuff like that in the summer. It gets bad.

- Seeing heavy brush. I think, go after it there.

MARLEE GINTER: Firefighters just posted this on Facebook to raise awareness about the dangers.

ROBERT PADILLA: It's very difficult to get help to them. The fires move fast. There's medical emergencies. It's a slow-moving tragedy, to be quite frankly.

MARLEE GINTER: Sacramento firefighter [? Robert ?] Padilla tells me crews get called to the river multiple times a day. Drone 13 captured this from above just days ago, hot spots and heavy smoke along the river, a concern we even told you about last year, now, worse than before.

ROBERT PADILLA: These are third-world conditions that these people are living in. And it's happening right here in our backyard. It's disheartening. But it's real.

MARLEE GINTER: Firefighters and visitors like Harpst hoping awareness leads to a solution.

MICHAEL HARPST: I don't see them do anything about it. And it's getting worse. I've seen it over the years. So if they were to do something about it, it wouldn't be like this.

MARLEE GINTER: And then, get this, firefighters tell me that homeless are actually moving in from other parts of the country because they know they'll get emergency services here. So I did reach out to the county. Because that's the next step. That's what firefighters want to know, what lawmakers will do next. I'm still waiting to hear back from the director of homeless initiatives.