Charleston firefighters voice concerns over boarding up abandoned homes

Published: Jul. 16, 2019 at 4:34 PM EDT
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Abandoned homes are prominent all around our region, and many cities turn to wooden boards to keep squatters and even children out of unsafe structures.

In 2019, the Charleston Fire Department has answered 27 vacant house fire calls. After several fires, they began voicing safety concerns. Firefighters told WSAZ the wooden boards actually make their jobs more dangerous. They also pose a threat to nearby homes.

"The fire is going to be growing inside of this structure. No one is going to see it until it breaks through and becomes very large, and what commonly happens is it catches the adjacent house on fire," Lt. David Hodges with the Charleston Fire Department said.

Richard Patrick lives just 15 feet away from an abandoned, boarded-up home. He said they are always keeping a close eye on the home and who goes in and out.

"We're always nervous about that place, and that would make us even more so, if there was a fire and nobody could see it. That's pretty creepy," he said.

Hodges said the boards put firefighters at risk because the temperatures can rise quickly inside a boarded up, burning home. "We're just crawling into a very intense oven," he said.

According to Hodges, firefighters also have a limited viewpoint of the fire if the home is boarded up.

After voicing the safety concerns, they began working with the city to come up with an alternative to the wooden boards.

"We are not asking for all the boards to be removed immediately. We just want to look and say, 'Is what we're doing effective, and is it safe for everyone,'" Hodges said.

City officials said they are looking at other cities across the country and gathering new ideas. Alternative solution ideas include leaving some windows open, as long as they cannot be reached from ground level.

City of Charleston Chief of Staff Matt Sutton said they could also use a different material to board up the homes. However Hodges said, while that solves the viewing problem, that still creates the same environment inside the home.

Hodges said other cites also spend money maintaining the home and surrounding areas instead of spending money on boarding up the home.

Neighbors agree the city needs a change, but they know finding a solution can be difficult.

"On one hand, if it's not boarded up people will be in there. But in all reality, firefighters know what they need more than the average person," Patrick said.

Sutton said until a decision is make on an alternative solution, the city will continue to board up abandoned homes.