Vacant house fires raise questions about possibility of squatters

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As the nights grow colder, the search for warmth has gone up, leaving fire crews busier now than usual.

"What we see more typical this time of year, even in the vacant ones, probably with homeless people involved or warming fires, sometimes using a fireplace inappropriately or some other heating device inappropriately leads to a fire,” Wichita Fire Marshall Stuart Bevis said.

Wichita firefighters responded to three house fires Wednesday morning and even more in the past week. At least two of those fires were in abandoned homes.

While majority of the causes of the fires are still under investigation, Bevis says they treat every fire as if someone may be trapped inside the home.

“When it comes to vacant structures, we never know. It could be kids in there playing, it could be transients, homeless people in there squatting or it could be a construction worker in there doing work. We don’t know that,” Bevis said.

A fire near 10th and Poplar had neighbor Everett Garrett concerned after it caused damaged to the side of his home.

“When I looked out the window right there I just see like a ball of fire was just bright, just like real, real bright. And I got scared. I started having my anxiety attack,” Garrett said.

Garrett said he doesn’t believe anyone has lived there in the past year but wonders about people possibly being in there at night.

“If I didn’t have anywhere to stay, I guess I might do it myself. But I wouldn’t burn a house on purposely. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would do it purposely,” Garrett said.

Fire crews also want to remind residents that now is the time to be cautious of some of their items that could be fire hazards. Such as plugging Christmas lights into too many extension cords or forgetting to unplug space heaters.

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