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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two people hospitalized after propane explosion at homeless camp near Spokane River

An explosion in a tent at a camp near the Spokane River sent two people to the hospital.   (Courtesy of the Spokane Fire Department)

An explosion at an encampment near the Spokane River sent two people to the hospital Monday afternoon.

The Spokane Fire Department responded to reports of a fire near North Waterworks Street and East Surro Avenue just after 3 p.m., said Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.

Next to the river there is a camp with about 40 people living here, Schaeffer said. One of the camp residents called 911 because he heard people nearby screaming for help, Schaeffer said.

When firefighters arrived, they found a man with critical burns and a woman with serious burns.

“They were able to communicate and told us they were in their tent and there was an explosion,” Schaeffer said.

They were quickly transported to a nearby hospital for treatment. Their status was unknown as of 5 p.m., Schaeffer said.

Upon initial investigation it appears they were using a propane tank, similar to one used on an outdoor grill, as a heater, Schaeffer said.

The pair layered two tents, blankets and a tarp to protect them from the elements, Schaeffer said.

“They had a very well-insulated, tight compartment where they were living along next to the river,” Schaeffer said. “That gas built up inside of that tent over a very short period of time.”

When one of the people in the tent lit a cigarette, the gas ignited in a flash, Schaeffer said. The fire did not burn beyond that, he said.

“It went out as fast as it occurred,” Schaeffer said.