After a fire Tuesday night at the homeless encampment at Blakeslee Junction in Centralia destroyed a two-story structure and an RV, displacing three people, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) posted signs asking residents to remove vehicles which hindered the ability of firefighters from the Riverside Fire Authority and Chehalis Fire departments to extinguish the blaze.
No injuries were reported due to the fire.
Riverside Fire Authority Chief Kevin Anderson reported seeing “brand new” signs posted at the encampment while fighting the fire and thought those had been posted by WSDOT. But, according to WSDOT, paper signs had been taped to the entrance obstructing vehicles after the fire and residents who owned them had been contacted about the issue.
The signs do not mention vehicles, however, instead reading: “Public Notice … Only authorized crews will be allowed beginning at 9:30 (a.m.) on March 31. Please remove personal belongings. Any remaining items left at this property on March 31 may be discarded.”
This prompted The Chronicle to incorrectly publish, “The signs demand that residents vacate the property within the next two days,” implying all residents of the encampment.
According to WSDOT Assistant Communications Manager Kelly Hanahan, in an email exchange with The Chronicle, “The only people who have received this notice are those in the vehicles that have to be moved.”
Hanahan said the department’s eventual intent is to sell the land, which is surplus. When a sale is made, the site will be vacated and cleaned before it is transferred to a new owner. The area surrounding WSDOT’s easement was annexed by the Centralia City Council in March.
“We closely coordinate with the city of county and ensure there is outreach from the appropriate service providers,” Hanahan said, later adding, “When WSDOT vacates a full site, which is not the case at this location, every attempt is made to reach each occupant with a notice.”