Fire destroys tent, belongings of homeless man at People’s Park

Robert Dougherty escaped injury, but lost his home and his belongings after his tent caught fire while he was asleep inside.

Robert Dougherty stands in People's Park on April 21 where his tent and personal belongings burned in a fire on April 21.
Robert Dougherty stands in People’s Park where his tent and personal belongings burned in a fire on April 21. Photo: Chris Polydoroff

A fire that broke out around 4 p.m. Tuesday in People’s Park destroyed the tent and personal belongings of Robert Dougherty.

Dougherty spoke to Berkeleyside contributor Chris Polydoroff at the scene after the fire had been contained by Berkeley Fire Department.

Dougherty said he works nights part-time as a janitor and was asleep in his tent when a neighbor shouted at him to to wake up and get out of the tent. He escaped without injuries, he told Polydoroff. He has been living in the park for about a month, he said, and has been homeless in Berkeley for seven years.

Berkeley Fire responded to calls shortly after 4 p.m. about the fire at People’s Park and extinguished it quickly. Photo: @FarhadGolriz60

BFD Assistant Chief Keith May said the department received more than one report of a fire in People’s Park, near Bowditch and Haste, at 4:04 p.m. A first engine arrived at 4:09 p.m. and quickly extinguished a fire that destroyed a small tent, he said. May confirmed there were no injuries, either to members of the public or firefighters. BFD has not determined a cause for the fire.


Dougherty told Polydoroff that he doesn’t know how the fire started either. He described the tent has having been 10 x 10 foot and he believes the fire started outside at one of its corners. He was asleep and had not been smoking or burning candles, he said, adding that about two months ago someone set a small storage trailer of his on fire, and he suspects someone started this fire too.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.