Fresno firefighters welcome new precautions against squatters

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Fresno firefighters have adjusted to the city's year-old law that requires property owners use Plexiglas instead of plywood to board up abandoned homes. (KFSN)

Fresno firefighters have adjusted to the city's year-old law that requires property owners use Plexiglas instead of plywood to board up abandoned homes.

"The more we're exposed to them, the better we're going to get at handling these situations," Fresno Fire Batt. Chief Lawrence French said.

The abandoned house fire on Belmont near First Avenues on Monday was the most recent for the Fresno Fire Department, and dealing with the Plexiglas was good practice.

"We've had some incidents starting back in early February where we arrived on scene and it was a new material for us," Hector Vasquez with the Fresno Fire Department said. "And we've had to identify to see if the tools that we carry on our engines and trucks can be utilized to breach the material."

They found out, a chainsaw does the trick and now it's simply another material to identify when arriving on scene.

Last year, the city introduced the new law, even doing a demonstration to show why Plexiglas makes sense.

They say it's less of an eyesore than plywood but it also prevents people from getting inside.

If they do, the Plexiglas allows people nearby to see what's going on, like the employees at an auto shop next door to the Monday fire.

"You can see through it, if anybody's there," Elpidio Camacho, who work next door, said. "At least you can advise the police, say, 'Look,' you know. Prevents a lot of these problems that happen right now."

"Homeless people, squatters in these vacant homes is not a good deal," Vasquez said. "These homes don't have any electricity or any appliances, and they use other means of keeping warm, and providing light, and it usually leads to incidents like this."

With this fire, crews were able to see that no one was inside, but back in December plywood hid the fact that there were six people inside a central Fresno home.

All but one were killed.

It's another reason why firefighters hope Plexiglas will make a difference.

"If there's somebody trapped inside, we'll identify that and make other means of getting access, and put us more into a rescue mode," Vasquez said.
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