Vacant house fires becoming an increasing problem in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Homeless residents are believed to be responsible for another house fire in Fresno.

It happened overnight in the Calwa area in the southeast part of town.

The house was destroyed and a neighboring house was damaged.

Chris Barrato who lives next door to the burning house was awakened by firefighters pounding on his door.

His home was damaged by the flames. He blames homeless people who've set fires there before.

"Homeless people going in and out of the house constantly, I already reported it, before this fire I called about a month and a half ago reported a little fire that was in there, but cops came but they let the homeless people go, didn't do nothing about it so people were still running in and out of the house," said Barrato.

Fresno firefighters are facing a bigger challenge now when responding to abandoned house fires. They recently rescued a homeless man from a fire, and Deputy Chief Richard Cabral says they now must assume every burning structure could have someone inside.

"In Fresno, we have to actually go out and do an assessment of could there possibly be someone inside, because we have so many instances of these structures being inhabited by homeless," said Deputy Chief Cabral.

Fires in vacant or abandoned houses are a growing problem throughout Fresno. This house on Simpson has been set on fire six times. The owner has been trying to renovate it, but homeless keep coming back. While it's boarded up now, a homeless person was living under a blue tarp in the driveway and there were tents in the backyard.

Fresno City Communications Director Mark Standriff says the city takes action when it can.

"It's not illegal to keep a house vacant, they have to register with the city so that we at least know where these buildings are," said Standriff.

But, he says if homeless are seen coming and going, police should be called.

Chris Barrato has called the police and has his own suggestion.

"Yeah, get rid of all the abandoned houses," said Barrato.

The city can't do that, but they do have the power to eventually act.

"If there's a house that seems to have multiple fires and if its multiple breaks ins then we have various legal opportunities for us all the way up to and including receivership and we have done that with a number of negligent property owners," said Standriff.
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