Tuesday , May 28 2024

Blighted, Vacant Homes ‘Magnets’ for Fires

Fresno firefighters have been busy responding to a recent spike in fires at vacant homes. City leaders say these abandoned properties are often a magnet for squatters where fires can break out. Just last month, the Fresno City Council passed an anti-blight ordinance meant to help the situation.

Tuesday around 5:30 a.m., a fire destroyed an abandoned home on Lafayette and Dudley in west central Fresno.

"It’s been common for transients or homeless people to be coming in and out of this structure with perhaps suspicious behavior," said Fresno Fire Battalion Chief Ron Stogdell.

Last Thursday in central Fresno, firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire at a vacant, boarded up home near Belmont and First.

Firefighters say these kinds of dilapidated structures pose a greater risk.

"We’ve had multiple fires in vacant buildings where we’ve had previous fires, so there’s either holes in the ceiling, holes in the roof, holes in the floor where squatters have been in there and damaged the structure," said Fresno Fire Batallion Chief Lawrence French.

City leaders say transients, squatters, and irresponsible property owners are often to blame.

Besides being an eyesore, these blighted properties pose a hazard for public safety, says Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier.

"Because they’re a magnet for criminals to break in to, and it’s also a public safety hazard as it relates to fires," Olivier said.

In central Fresno, Rick Renteria has been renovating his property to prepare for renters, and he takes measures to keep squatters away.

"We’re forced to have to secure the place by boarding windows up, putting surveillance cameras all over the property until the renovations are done," Renteria said.

Now, the city is going a step further, requiring property owners of vacant buildings to replace windows covered with plywood with some kind of clear rigid material to increase visibility from the outside.

Renteria thinks it’s a good idea.

"Right now this (plywood) is to keep people out but with these other security type of measures (transparent material), we can see people [inside], and they still have to stay out," Renteria said. 

Olivier said fighting the blight problem with vacant properties will take cooperation from property owners and enforcement from the city.

The latest city budget that the council passed Tuesday makes it possible to hire four more code enforcement officers to help with the problem.

The anti-blight ordinance went into effect June 16, with a 60-day grace period. The city will begin a city-wide survey July 1 to identify all vacant, blighted residential buildings. In mid-July, the city will send courtesy notices to those property owners.

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