After a blaze Sunday night, property owners are being warned that they are on the hook for costs associated with fighting human-caused fires in buildings used by squatters.
Fire crews responded to a structure fire in an abandoned home off Second Avenue at about 11:30 p.m.
Fire chief Larry Watkinson said the building was “known as a decrepit building where people were squatting and was frequently used by drug users.”
As they headed to the scene, firefighters received reports there were people inside the house. Crews entered and found nobody in the home, but there was plenty of evidence it was frequented by squatters.
“There were up to 12 sleeping areas that we found inside the structure,” Watkinson said.
The home was gutted by flames. While investigators aren’t sure of the cause, Watkinson suspects the blaze was started by those who had been living inside, possibly by a direct flame such as a candle.
On Tuesday, after the investigation, an excavator was brought onto the site to demolish the building.
The fire underscores the need for property owners to take responsibility for vacant buildings, Watkinson stated.
While crews would normally have allowed the fire to burn itself out, reports of people inside required firefighters to enter the structure to make sure no one was trapped or injured.
Along with the dangers inherent in entering any burning building, vacant and derelict structures can pose additional hazards. Following this blaze, crews found multiple propane canisters, needles and garbage.
“It poses a hazard to the people who are squatting there and it poses a major threat to firefighters,” Watkinson said, calling the situation “hugely dangerous.”
While the Second Avenue building was pulled down, Mission still has many abandoned buildings that are used by the homeless and pose fire dangers.
“There are quite a few abandoned buildings in town that are known to the integrated services team that tries to keep an eye on these properties,” he said. “The difficulty is when we board them up they find their way in and to keep warm and cook they use different appliances and candles, and left unattended they can turn into a catastrophe.”
Watkinson stressed both the importance for owners to prevent vacant buildings from becoming flop houses and the financial consequences that can result from not doing so.
“Property owners that know they have an abandoned structure on their properties, it is their due diligence and responsibility to make sure that their properties are secure and not accessible by vagrants,” he said.
“The charges associated to these fires will be charged back to the property owner based on having an abandoned structure that is accessible.
“We’re putting our resources to these buildings that are real hazards to our community.”