Neighbors concerned after rash of vacant house fires in Charleston

So far in 2021, there have been eight house fires.  Seven of those fires have been in vacant...
So far in 2021, there have been eight house fires. Seven of those fires have been in vacant homes and were caused by people trying to keep warm, according to Charleston Fire Department Fire Marshal Richard Symns.(Tori Yorgey)
Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 6:57 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Though it’s only 11 days into the New Year, there have already been eight fires in the city of Charleston so far. Charleston Fire Marshal Richard Symns told WSAZ that seven of the eight fires were vacant homes caused by people trying to stay warm.

“Anybody that lives around abandoned houses are in jeopardy of their house catching fire,” said Alisha Williams, who lives next to a vacant home and only blocks away from where the most recent fire broke out Monday morning.

Fire officials said they could tell the fire from Monday morning was caused by people trying to stay warm because of the items burned inside the house.

“I hate it because, all of our kids are home right now so it makes you more scared,” said Ashley James, principal of Piedmont Elementary School on Charleston’s East End. “As soon as I hear about them, it makes me very unsettled. I usually go to where the fire is to make sure it’s none of our kids (or near any of their homes).”

James said there was one fire in December that had only one house between it and one of their students. She also added that the most recent fire on Ruffner Avenue was very close to several of their families.

“It makes me worried for our children,” she said.

“It’s a constant worry. I mean, (the) house beside of me caught fire a couple of months ago and it burnt down initially a year and a half ago,” Williams told WSAZ. “I’ve been worried that someone is going to catch it on fire because so many people have been breaking in.”

Williams said she would like to see more security throughout the neighborhood in hopes of preventing another fire.

“Having the home secure, having security systems, the police can’t watch these houses 24/7 and the city needs to be held accountable for the risk,” she said.

Charleston city officials tell WSAZ even though the homes are vacant, it is still the property owner’s responsibility to maintain and secure the property. Mayor Amy Goodwin said last week the city is committing $1 million in the first six months of 2021 to tear down abandoned homes all across Charleston. However, they also say, tearing down homes is not a fast process.

“If a property in the city becomes a nuisance, the Building Department can start proceedings to tear down these homes. This process takes a substantial amount of time and can sometimes be met with challenges that make the process start over. Even after a demolition, the property ownership dose not change. The City will file a lien on the property for the cost of demolition,” Kevin Baker with the Charleston Land Reuse Agency (CLRA), said in a statement.

Baker said if property owners no longer want or cannot take care of a property, they can contact the CLRA. The CLRA is responsible for identifying and acquiring vacant and abandoned properties in the city.

As far as security for abandoned or vacant homes, Charleston Police Department Lt. David Payne said people can contact the records division at (304) 348-6400 to request more patrols for their area.

“It takes a neighborhood and the communities working together to be our eyes and ears to help us know what’s going on in the neighborhoods so we can combat these fires that are taking place,” Payne said.

He added that if you notice any abandoned homes that have boards missing, you can contact the police department to ensure the homes get re-boarded.

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