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Fire report: April fire at construction site of Opportunity Campus likely started by homeless person trying to stay warm


The Columbia Fire Department believes that a trailer fire on a Little Dixie Construction site was started by a homeless person trying to stay warm. 

On April 5, the Columbia Fire Department was dispatched to a fire in the 1600 Block of East Business Loop 70 at 2:13 a.m. The site of the fire is set to be the future home of the Opportunity Campus, a new living facility to help the homeless population in Columbia. 

Firefighters arrived on the scene four minutes after and had the fire under control within eight minutes. When ABC 17 crews arrived a trailer with a Little Dixie Construction sign was engulfed in flames. CFD spokeswoman Katherine Rodriguez told ABC 17 News in April that one firefighter was taken to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. 

The fire report claims the fire was likely started by a homeless person using a trailer as a shelter and that they likely started fire to stay warm. 

According to the fire report, Fire Marshals came up with four possible reasons for the fire. The first was that a generator that was left plugged in started an electric fire. However, the generator was not plugged in or running when crews arrived. 

The second idea was that the fire was started after an employee left a cigarette butt burning near combustible materials. That theory was ruled out after video footage showed no employees going inside the trailer the day before the fire. 

Another theory was that the fire was intentionally started by someone who was opposed to a homeless shelter being built in the area. Fire Marshals ruled out that theory after video footage allegedly showed the first signs of smoke three hours before there was a visible flame. According to the report, an accelerant fire would have ignited much quicker. 

Investigators determined a homeless person most likely caused the fire after reviewing video footage from Columbia Water and Light security camera, as well as a security camera that was on the job site. 

According to the report, the footage from the job site shows a man wearing a black jacket with what appeared to be a paper bag and a small plastic gas can walking around the job site. He was later seen entering a portable toilet. 

Video footage from Columbia Water and Light allegedly shows light on the northern part of the trailer just after 1 a.m. The light goes out roughly 15 minutes later before a fire appears on the video around 2 a.m. Within five minutes, the fire had spread to the roof. 

Fire crews also reported in the documents that the door of the trailer was unlocked. An employee for Little Dixie Construction who arrived on scene the morning of the fire also told investigators that homeless people are known to be in the area.

The report states that screenshots from the video were sent to the Columbia Police Department but no subject has been located. The report estimates the fire caused a $45,000 loss.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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