FFD: Squatters likely causing dangerous fires

FRESNO, Calif.

Firefighters say these fires certainly put their lives on the line. They say squatters are taking over in the large number of abandoned homes throughout the city.

One woman told Action News the carelessness that starts the fires caused her to lose her home.

Firefighters worked to douse the flames inside a Central Fresno apartment building Tuesday morning. Several units burned as flames tore through the attic of the empty, units.

"I was leaving, about to go to work, and the next thing you know my neighbor from across the street starts telling me there's smoke coming from my house," Syndi Lee said.

Lee is now forced to find a new home. She manages the now burned out building and says she's tried several times to remove the squatters living in the empty units.

"I would stay up just because you would always hear them," she said of the squatters staying in her building.

Fresno firefighters say Tuesday morning's fire on Clay Street is one of several in recent months. The neighboring building burned at least twice now, even though it's been boarded up for months.

"The problem with that is that we have to treat it as if it's not a vacant home," said FFD spokesman Koby Johns. "Sometimes there's people in there. There's a reason there's a fire and we have to go in a search and make sure that no one is inside."

It's a constant issue for fire fighters. Just last week a man living in a garage at this home in southeast Fresno was blamed for sparking this fire. And Johns says vacant boarded up homes are often much more dangerous for him and his crews.

"Being that they're all boarded up like this, it presents a hazard for us because if it goes back real quick it's hard to get out of these structures other than the way you came in," Johns said.

The fires, they believe, won't stop but they're hoping vigilance around empty homes will ease the dangers.

The official cause of Tuesday morning's fire is under investigation but so far evidence, we're told, points to suspicious activity.

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