ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–City hall is wondering out loud if the big warehouse fire this week may have been a homeless warming fire gone awry, even as the fire department waits for the building to cool so investigators can get inside for a look around.
The city’s Director of Homeless Services, Bill Siedhoff, was awaiting official word from fire investigators, but also aware of news reports of homeless activity near the fire scene.
“I did see the news reporting relating to someone apparently bringing in wood to that building,” Siedhoff said, “Why would you be carrying wood into a building to set a fire? And there was some report, as I understand it, that there were some homeless people seen leaving the building.”
Mayor Slay also got in on debate, tweeting his concerns about people who help the homeless living in that area by bringing them firewood.
“Of particular interest,” Slay tweeted, “who were the do-gooders noted dropping off fire wood? And why?”
Earlier this year, Siedhoff announced plans to “relocate” dozens of homeless living in tents and vacant buildings along the riverfront, some just a block away from the fire.
Siedhoff says of the some 60 riverfront squatters who were counted this summer, 32 have been moved out, 11 more are “scheduled to move out the end of the month.” Another 16 are still there.
When asked if it’s time to set a deadline for all homeless to leave the riverfront, similar to the deadline set in November to remove the Occupy St. Louis protestors from Kiener plaza, Siedhoff was noncommittal .
“We’re going to continue to work with everybody,” Siedhoff said, “There may come that time. But at this point we haven’t set a deadline.”
Mayor Slay also tip-toed around the question, sensitive to the plight of the homeless and their past history of suing the city for throwing away their tents and other belongings from a downtown park.
“What we want to make sure of is that people are safe in our city,” Slay said, “And if you’re homeless, living out on the riverfront in an unsafe condition, we’re concerned about that.”
The five-alarm fire heavily damaged the 6-story brick warehouse, once the site of the Crunden-Martin manufacturing operation. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
No fire fighters were hurt, but at one point the evacuation sirens wailed, and dozens of firefighters scampered from the building, as flames belched from the upper floors.
The fire also threatened the next door St. Mary of Victories church. Firefighters hosed down the roof of the historic church for fear it might catch fire.