A string of fires has many residents in the Historic Northeast concerned for their community. The fires have taken place at abandoned homes, causing havoc in the neighborhoods and threatening homes nearby.
John Baccala, with the city’s Neighborhoods and Housing Services department, said neighbors should stay vigilant and continue to report any suspicious activity going on in homes that are vacant.
“The most important thing about it is that this is not going to stop until there is a vigilant effort by neighbors because neighbors know which houses are vacant,” said Baccala. “Neighbors know that no one is supposed to be in that house and when they think someone is in that house, they need to immediately call 311 and call the police department, so they can get vagrants, homeless or illegal activities out of there. The 311 call will be able to keep access out.”
There are 155 registered vacant homes in the 64124 zip code alone. Baccala said the key word is “registered,” and there are likely double that, including unregistered vacant homes.
“So you can see where it would be very easy for this problem to get out of hand if we don’t have this vigilance component in place.”
Baccala said the investigations into the fires are still ongoing and they are waiting on reports from the Fire Department to see what they find during their investigative work.
There have been several complaints regarding the homelessness issue and lack of affordable housing in the area, but Baccala says it’s not as easy of a fix as that, with many of these homes requiring several thousands of dollars of work before anyone could be able to inhabit them.
He adds that there is a common misconception that the issue of vagrants entering homes is more prevalent because of the dropping temperatures, but he says this isn’t true.
“From our studies at City Hall, vagrants and homeless people entering homes is no more prevalent in November through January than it is in June through August. What we have seen is that because it’s so unusually cold this early this year, that they do start fires and that’s what’s happening. But intruders in these homes is not more prevalent this time of year.”
Baccala said it’s important for neighbors to report suspicious activity to reduce the likelihood of the fires, and to keep nearby homes from burning as well.
“Part of the charm of the entire Northeast area is the fact these are older homes,” he said, “where back in the day, the homes are built pretty close together, which is great for building a neighborhood community feeling, but not so great when we have incidents like this. Not only does it burn the home where someone was inside, but it also singes and moves on to neighboring properties, and therein lies an issue where people have to be vigilant.”
Baccala said ultimately, he doesn’t want anyone getting hurt because of unnecessary fires.
“We don’t want first responders getting hurt fighting fires they don’t have to fight in the first place. First thing we need to do is not point blame anywhere. We have to realize it’s out there, we have to realize what’s happening, and we have to realize the best way to stop what’s happening. Without that vigilance component, it’s not going to stop.”