FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – A vacant commercial building in south-central Fresno went up in flames on Tuesday morning, with two people trapped inside.
It’s the 97th vacant structure fire so far this year and now, people are calling on the city to make changes.
One of those people is Andrea Celedon, who works in the building next door. She said she and her coworkers have been expecting the building to catch fire since they moved in next door two years ago.
“We’d actually been requesting that the owner maintain the facility. The driveway had been blocked by debris, there was a couch that caught on fire not too long ago,” she said.
According to the Fresno Fire Department, there have been 839 structure fires so far this year – 97 of those vacant – and often illegally occupied by transients.
“A lot of the vacant structure fires we go to don’t ignite by themselves,” said Battalion Chief Bob Camp.
The city council approved an ordinance in July that forces the owners of vacant commercial buildings to be held to the same standards as residential property owners, with the threat of big fines and loss of property.
Councilmember Miguel Arias said none of the buildings currently being monitored by the city have fallen victim to fires, but as they try to expand, resources run thin.
“That’s going to be the work that we’re going to be doing with the American Rescue funds: the residents of Fresno should anticipate that the code enforcement department will continue to expand to focus on things like vacant commercial buildings,” he said.
It’s something Celedon says hasn’t been the case for more than a year.
“We’ve been submitting requests for code enforcement to respond for at least the last year and a half, and we haven’t heard any response. This is really a lack of response from the City of Fresno,” she said.
Discussions on what the city will use American Rescue funds for start later this month. Arias said he wants to hire more employees and buy more equipment for the code enforcement department.
The fire department urges citizens to call law enforcement if they see suspicious activity around vacant buildings.