Vacant house fires on the rise in Fayetteville
Posted January 7, 2015
Fayetteville, N.C. — Fires in vacant and abandoned properties are on the rise in Fayetteville, according to the Fayetteville Fire/Emergency Management Department.
Statistics from the fire department's planning and research division found that there were 51 fires in vacant properties in 2014, compared with 19 in 2013 and 33 in 2012.
Vacant homes on Orange Street and Spring Valley Road caught fire on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
"The sparks and the flames came over to this house, this one and the one next door," said Eugenia Evans, who lives two doors down from the Orange Street house that burned. "My son took the hose pipe, and he watered down the roof, and that's what kept us from burning up."
Evans said she fears a vacant house next door may be next to go up in flames. Someone has already taken down plywood that boarded up a window on the house.
Fayetteville Fire Department Battalion Chief Ronald Lewis said most of the vacant buildings that have burned are in the downtown area, but fires have occurred across the city.
"These are properties that are largely unattended or abandoned and are both secured and unsecured," Lewis said in a statement.
Although the causes of some of the fires haven't been determined, he said a growing homeless population in Fayetteville might be to blame for a number of the blazes.
"The occupants that inhabit these structures operate below the radar of law enforcement and are difficult locate after a fire for questioning," he said.
Thomas Sanders and Jimmy Pittman are among a dozen or so homeless people who live in makeshift tents underneath the Person Street bridge. Sanders said fires the group starts to keep warm sometimes catch the tents on fire, so they sometimes search for shelter in abandoned homes.
"I've done it before, but there's really not enough, I mean, I don't know where all the abandoned buildings are, and I don't want to get in trouble," Pittman said.
With temperature expected to plunge below freezing Wednesday and Thursday nights, the scramble to keep warm continues.
"I'm not really wanting to do it, but if push comes to shove, I can go to Salvation Army for the white flag," Sanders said, referring to the signal shelters put out when they are accepting more people during cold weather.
Evans said she hopes the homeless go to shelters and don't seek out vacant homes.
"I would prefer them go to the facility and not come over here and burn down my house," she said.
Fire department officials said they are working with the Fayetteville Police Department and Minimum Housing to curb and prevent more fires by reaching out to community watch groups and individuals to encourage reporting suspicious behavior of people gathering in vacant or abandoned property.
People are asked to call 911 if the see activity in and around vacant or abandoned structures.