SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Vacant house fires are causing some extra concern after 22 of them broke out in Springfield this year.
But the Fire Department says while that number is not unusual, what’s alarming is the danger they cause.
Out of those 22 vacant house fires, 16 were arson. The latest one happened just over the weekend. And while the investigation is still ongoing, it is believed to have been intentionally set.
The Fire Department and city leaders are urging property owners to secure vacant buildings and neighbors to call in any suspicious activity.
Tim Clayton, a Springfield resident, says a house across the street from him has been vacant for three years and has caught fire at least twice.
“I was unaware that there was a fire, and I came out because I heard a ‘boom,’ and the front door actually blew off the hinges,” he said.
But this is just one of many.
“We know that they are highly susceptible for having fires in them, more so than those that are occupied,” said Chief David Hall.
Some fires are accidental, either homeless individuals trying to stay warm or cook. Or in some instances criminal activity such as meth labs. But most are intentionally set.
“They tend to grow much faster because they have used some kind of accelerant,” said Chief Hall. “The other thing is they often go undetected because nobody is there.”
If a fire is set at a vacant home, it’s not only dangerous for neighbors, but also for firefighters.
“They tend to be vacant for a reason, so they may be in disrepair, have holes in the floors, which creates additional risk for the firefighters. Maybe structurally unsound, so they collapse on top of the personnel fairly rapidly,” Chief Hall said.
45 percent of these vacant house fires happen in unsecured buildings, highlighting the importance of vacant properties be reported and properly boarded up.
“They may be compliant with the city code as far as the windows are closed and the doors are locked, but if somebody kicks in window or door,” said Chris Straw, director of building development services.
If an owner doesn’t secure a building, the city proceeds to remove that property. A process that can take months.
“We have laws, state laws, notification laws that we have to comply with,” Straw said.
“I just think it’s a slow process, I just wish they could speed it up a little bit,” said Clayton.
With temperatures dropping, Chief Hall expects more of these vacant house fires to break out. The city says they continue to research ways to fight this issue.
You can anonymously report a vacant property or suspicious activity by calling the Public Information Officer at 417-864-1010.