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Gas can explodes at homeless camp; one person burned

Firefighters extinguished the fire and searched the area to ensure everyone made it out safely.

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Rochester firefighters battle a fire at a homeless encampment Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Northwest Rochester. Contributed / Rochester Fire Department
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A 47-year-old man suffered burns to his arms and face after a gas can exploded at a homeless encampment early Tuesday, Nov. 9, morning in Northwest Rochester.

At 2:08 a.m., the Rochester Fire Department was dispatched to a homeless encampment behind Mississippi Welders Supply on Seventh Street Northwest. Upon arrival, firefighters found a large fire involving a homeless shelter and several trees.

Firefighters extinguished the fire and searched the area to ensure everyone made it out safely.

The man was found in a nearby parking lot and was taken to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys. Rochester police identified him as a 47-year-old man. Dan Fifield, executive director and founder of The Landing MN, said the man was in stable condition, but had suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands and face and will be admitted to the burn unit.

The fire destroyed the shelter and its contents, causing about $1,000 in damages.

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Lt. Jon Turk said in an email to the Post Bulletin that the camp, which was made up of tarps, was about 10 feet by 20 feet and had two people living in it. The shelter included carpet on the floor and a small kitchen and was a "well thought-out structure for what it was," according to Fifield.

Fifield said his team had visited the camp the day before, but were unable to make contact with the residents -- a common practice for the organization, which seeks to make sure unhoused individuals are supplied with basic necessities and are connected with services.

While Fifield said it was too early to say if there would be any fundraising campaigns to support the man in his recovery, he said that The Landing was actively working on housing for him and that he would especially need housing with care after this incident.

At any given moment, there are approximately a dozen encampments throughout the city, according to Turk.

The fire is under investigation.

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Rochester firefighters battle a fire at a homeless encampment Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Northwest Rochester. Contributed / Rochester Fire Department

Andrew Link has been the Digital Managing Editor at the Post Bulletin since 2021. He first joined the PB as a photographer in 2015. Readers can reach Andrew at 507-281-7427 or alink@postbulletin.com.
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