A fire early Friday destroyed 11 tiny shelter homes and damaged four others that housed homeless veterans at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The fire likely was caused by lithium batteries that overheated while charging in one of the shelters, LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
The Fire Department estimated the total damage at $160,000, including about $50,000 for the contents of the homes that were lost.
There were no reported injuries from the fire, which was reported at 12:12 a.m. on the 388-acre campus where the tiny home village is located. Firefighters found 11 shelters on fire when they arrived, and they put out the blaze in about 15 minutes, Humphrey said.
The Red Cross was contacted but a spokesperson said its services were not needed to help the 20 displaced veterans. Officials with the Veterans Affairs office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rob Reynolds, a veteran and volunteer with the veteran advocacy group AMVETS, said he received a call from one resident shortly after the fire started.
“As I was driving up, I saw the fire starting to spread to a bunch of the other tiny homes,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t realize how flammable these tiny homes are. I mean, these things were just involved. And it was just spreading from like one to the next very rapidly.”
“The veterans should be inside buildings with sprinkler systems,” Reynolds added. “This wouldn’t have happened [if they were in buildings with sprinklers]. They shouldn’t even be in tiny homes.”
The VA campus in West L.A. was deeded to the federal government in 1888 for the care of veterans after the Civil War, but in recent decades advocates have argued that empty buildings on the campus could be better used to house homeless veterans.
A homeless encampment known as “Veterans Row” formed on the fringe of the campus along San Vicente Boulevard in recent years, but in November, the VA cleared the camp while offering its occupants services and temporary shelter.
The tiny home village was erected on the other side of the fence. While there are 140 homes in the village, several remain vacant due to staffing shortages, according to a recent report from Knock L.A.
Arnold Schwarzenegger donated 25 tiny homes, which measure 8 feet by 8 feet, to the village in December.
The village was built under the Care, Treatment and Rehabilitative Services program, which was born out of a federal class-action lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. The lawsuit argued that the VA’s programs discriminated against homeless veterans with severe mental health disabilities that make them unable to access medical and mental health services.
As part of a settlement in the lawsuit, the VA promised to build 1,200 housing units on the campus for homeless veterans, but the project has missed several important milestones.