Homeless man dies in downtown St. Louis tent fire

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - A fire killed a homeless man Friday in his tent near the Mississippi riverfront north of downtown while he was struggling to keep warm with a propane heater.

On Friday night, roughly 150 homeless men and women took advantage of the hot meal and warm place to sleep at the 12th and Park Center. The man who died was there the night before, where the staff says he appeared agitated and left early Friday morning. He declined to go to the day shelter.

The man’s name was ‘‘Jersey,” but friends of his tell Fox 2 he went by ‘‘Hardware,” because he could fix anything, and worked in the palette yard next to the enclave of tents he called home. After his shift Friday, friends say Hardware went back to his tent to take a nap. That’s when his tent caught fire, around 2:45 p.m. The fire was quickly extinguished, but it was too late to save Hardware.

No official cause has been determined yet, but firefighters could see that Hardware was using unsafe heating methods to stay warm in his tent: a propane tank with an open flame and a cooking stove.

Foul play is not suspected here.

‘‘We see that in the fire service quite often, that people do resort to desperate measures to stay warm,” said St. Louis Fire Captain Garon Mosby.

It’s why a concerned pastor tried to make these tents safer.

‘‘All the tents are equipped with fire extinguishers. This is just a tragedy right here,” said Pastor Paul Gonnella of St. Louis Harvest Church.

To prevent these fires, Mosby strongly suggests that the homeless head to the 12th and Park overflow shelter on particularly cold nights. In the mornings, the homeless then get transported to a day shelter to stay warm.

This is the second fatal fire at a homeless tent camp this winter. The city is trying to put an end to these tent encampments, due to fire-related dangers, and to push the occupants to take advantage of the emergency shelters that are available.