Indiana News

IFD anticipates more vacant structure fires as cold weather continues

Vacant house fires often accidental in winter

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The cause of a house fire at a vacant home Wednesday night on East Washington Street is under investigation. Indianapolis Fire Department says vacant house fires are a common problem fire crews run into, especially as months turn colder.

The house in the 3000 block of East Washington Street is not the first vacant home to catch fire over the last few weeks. Reports show that squatters have been known to come in and out of this home and though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, IFD says they expect more calls like this as the cold continues to blow through the metro.

“Now this weather has come in like a lion. It is here, it is cold, and I anticipate there are people trying to find shelter as we speak,” said IFD Battalion Chief Rita Reith.

Just within the last few weeks multiple vacant houses and buildings around Indianapolis have caught fire, all with reports of squatters frequenting the buildings.

This map shows areas where vacant buildings and homes in the city have caught fire in the last several weeks. (WISH Graphic)

“A lot of times people are trying to get into these structures to stay warm they are not intentionally setting the structure on fire,” said Reith.

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Though sometimes fires like this are labeled “arson”, Reith says it is a common issue the department deals with and it is often a result of people trying to get warm.

“Most of the time they are entering these structures because they are cold they are trying to stay warm. They are lighting available combustibles on fire, meaning a pile of clothes or a discarded mattress, even a stairwell. They are lighting whatever they can inside the structure to stay warm,” explained Reith.

Places like Wheeler Mission hope to serve as a resource for people seeking shelter this winter rather than them turning to a vacant home.

“We don’t charge anything, it’s free. And as long as they have some form of ID we are just happy to bring them into the shelter and get them food, clothing and shelter,” said Gary Conrad with Wheeler Mission.

Not only are the fires in the vacant buildings dangerous for the people inside of them, but also for the first responders who get them under control.

“It is dangerous for us as firefighters to enter, those structures are not maintained, we don’t know what has been happening inside the structure,” said Reith.

Wheeler Mission says they are lifting most of their requirements as winter nears in hopes of preventing things like this from happening.

“We are willing to take whoever to come in and just begin to help them to work through their issues,” said Conrad.

When these fires happen in the vacant structures they can also end up hurting homes or people nearby. If you see any kind of illegal activity going on in a vacant home or structure you are encouraged to call police and report it.

If you have questions for Wheeler Mission located at 205 E New York St, you can call the organization at the following number: (317) 635-3575.