Squatters in abandoned homes causing structure fires

Raleigh County

When temperatures drop, homeless people might seek shelter in abandoned homes.

Lt. Chris Lanna with the Beckley Fire Department said they respond to fires at abandoned homes frequently during the winter time. 

“Sometimes we’ll have folks breaking into abandoned houses, maybe squatting there, and they do sometimes start fires to stay warm which of course ends up being a structure fire for us,” said Lanna. 

When firefighters arrive at an abandoned home, they never know the dangers they might face. Lanna said some of these homes have been vacant for years, meaning they can be full of potential hazards, like collapsed ceilings, holes in the floors, and worse.

“A lot of times there will be special hazards inside these abandoned homes because if people are squatting in there, a lot of times there’s illegal drug use so we’ll find lots of needles inside those homes,” Lanna said. “So naturally if we’re going in to fight a fire, we are crawling in on our hands and knees and that’s just an additional hazard that we want to try to avoid is getting our hands stuck on a dirty needle.”

The Beckley Fire Department uses a system called Active 911. The smart phone app sends information about the calls to fire fighter’s phones and provides a map highlighting special hazards, such as abandoned homes. 

“So if the call comes in for a known abandoned house, anybody that looks at that call can see that information, know exactly what we’re going into at that time, so that we can be better prepared to respond to that particular situation,” said Lanna. 

According to Beckley Code Enforcement, abandoned homes are the property owner’s responsibility, and it is up to the owner to keep the property secure. 

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