SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Sacramento officials say a growing number of homeless camps set on critical infrastructure around the city are putting the public at risk.

Sacramento Fire says crews responded to the scene on Power Inn Road, just north of Fruitridge Road, in early November to investigate a report of smoke coming from a manhole cover. At the scene, firefighters discovered that the smoke was coming from a large underground drainage pipe.

READ MORE: Underground Pipe Catches Fire In Sacramento; Evidence Found That People Were Living Inside

“You start a fire in any type of area that is critical infrastructure, you are running a risk of impacting the community as a whole and you are creating a life safety problem,” said Sacramento Fire Captain Keith Wade.

This time no-one was injured, however, Wade fears next time it could be much worse.

“A larger-scale fire that could maybe impact the power grid,” he explained. “We are trying to keep people away from these areas, not living near them because if they have these accidental fires or any fires that could take these things and take them offline. There are huge repercussions to the community as a whole.”

It’s a growing issue with fires damaging critical infrastructures including an electrical station, flames coming close to power lines and burning close to other vital structures.

“When the homeless encampments make incursions into this critical infrastructure, our city could really be brought to its knees,” said Vice Mayor Jeff Harris.

The city council considered an ordinance earlier this year banning tents and camps from sites like levees, bridges, power sources and train tracks. The idea was postponed after council got pushback from homeless advocates while homeowners stressed its importance.

READ ALSO: How Will The City Enforce The Homeless Levee Ban?

“This is critical to the safety and health and welfare of all of the citizens,” said Natomas homeowner, Karen Conrod.

It’s a problem that could even cause flooding in some areas.

“There are hundreds, hundreds of inclusions into these levees,” explained Harris. “We are talking about an imminent catastrophic levee breech.”

The issue is the city still hasn’t been able to address these dangers.

“Because of COVID and because of the rules where we couldn’t move the homeless people,” Harris said. “The camps have become entrenched, what that means is they have grown in size, it’s almost like squatting. Some people feel they have squatter rights at this point.”

With a growing homeless population, it’s a problem Harris said can’t be ignored.

“It’s just not a good way for society to function,” he said.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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