Homeless Man May Have Been Set on Fire
A homeless man, known as Jack, sleeping in the stairwell of the Job Market on 4th and K in Eureka may have been set on fire a little after 1 a.m. today. Eureka City Council member Kim Bergel was driving home and saw the aftermath of the incident. She agreed to tell us what she knows.
Bergel explained that Jack told her “he heard a loud sound and then his sleeping bag was on fire.” Jack managed to get out of the bag and Bergel said, “He seemed okay. [However,] he said the back of his head was singed a little.”
According to what Jack told her and police, he believes someone actually ran up and set him on fire.
Bergel noted that this could have been the result of just an argument between two people–Jack said he’d had a serious disagreement with a man yesterday–or even something accidental might have occurred such as falling asleep with a cigarette or it could have been something more serious especially in light of a recent incident in Arcata where a man sleeping on a church porch appears to have been set on fire and, as a consequence, sent to a burn center in serious condition.
Acting Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson said that his department is taking this seriously but is still in the preliminary stages of the investigation. “We don’t have…any indication there was a connection to the Arcata incident,” he explained. “I urge people to be calm and be careful about drawing inferences.” However, he said, “We’re taking [this incident] very seriously…If it is connected, we will spare no investigative resources.”
Watson said that he has an investigator working on this today who will be looking into whether there is any video footage of the fire.
Bergel agrees with Watson, “We don’t need to get people up in arms until we have more information. Was this ‘just’ an argument between two people? or is it something even more serious? With all the hate around lately, it really is hard to determine…[But] we need to look at all the information before we jump to conclusions.”
Jack has been given some assistance, she said. “The fire department gave him a $25 certificate to buy a new sleeping bag.” But, she said, Jack crawled back into the same bag on a different part of the porch to continue sleeping that night.
“These marginalized people are surviving stuff every day,” she said. “They are pretty tough.”
Nonetheless, Jack lost his extra set of pants in the fire as well as his sleeping bag. Bergel said she tried to make sure that Jack was aware of all the places that he could get help today in town.
Below is an embedded map of where the fire occurred.