FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) — Standing on the corner of Illinois and Diana Street for over a century, the Hewitt home in Fresno has been left chard with significant damage after a fire Thursday.
The home is on the local historic property registry, built in 1891 by John C. Hewitt, a Mexican War veteran from Georgia turned Fresno County farmer.
Deputy Fresno Fire Marshall Jay Tracy says some of the construction methods used for houses built before the 1920s have been known to cause significant fire damage.
“Balloon-frame construction basically has channels in the wall that go all the way from the foundation all the way to the attic, so should the fire get into that channel, it’s going to go basically from the floor all the way to the attic without any stops,” said Tracy. “Over the years, we’ve identified that as being problematic and causing more significant, more severe fires and fire loss.”
Although building codes have changed over time to address these issues, this is something firefighters consider when approaching fires at older buildings, like the Hewitt home.
The home had been vacant and boarded up for months when the fire started around 3:45 Thursday afternoon.
When fire crews arrived, there was active fire and smoke coming from the building.
No one was inside at the time, and the official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Tracy says preliminary reports show there may have been homeless activity in and around the building.
He says this is a common ongoing issue in Fresno, we are many people experiencing homelessness will break in and take shelter at vacant homes not long after they’re boarded up.
“They bring tools to the site, and they’ll undo screws that we use to put boards up on the wall, they’ll use different pry bars and stuff to get in and gain access,” said Tracy. “So literally unless you have somebody living in the residence or somebody there on site 24 hours a day, it’s next to impossible to keep people out of it.”
Tracy says the fire department works with police, code enforcement, and the city attorney’s office to identify vacant buildings that may be vulnerable to break-ins, and they’ll sometimes increase patrols in those areas if staffing allows it.