SAFD tackles escalating fight against vacant structure fires

San Antonio firefighters are encountering an increasing number of vacant structure fires, a trend that has been on the rise in recent years, according to Joe Arrington, the fire public information officer for the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD). Arrington anticipates that by the end of this year, there will be a surge of 12 to 16 percent in vacant structure fires compared to the previous year. Currently, 29 percent of all fires that SAFD responds to are in vacant buildings or homes.

Arrington acknowledged that this growing challenge poses significant risks for both firefighters and nearby residents. He highlighted a recent incident on the west side of the city, where a vacant fire spread rapidly. The unstable nature of these structures makes it more difficult for firefighters to navigate, as the floors may have holes and the walls may collapse more quickly.

One of the factors that exacerbates the issue is the delayed reporting of these fires. Arrington noted that often, the fire is not reported promptly, resulting in firefighters having to combat a larger blaze than if it had been detected early. In a recent development, a fire broke out on Monday night in a vacant home east of downtown San Antonio, and is now being investigated as a possible arson case.

The problem of vacant structure fires is not unique to San Antonio. Arrington revealed that his department has been in discussions with other fire departments across the country to find solutions. Many cities across the nation, especially since the onset of the pandemic, have experienced a similar surge in such fires.

The issue of homelessness is closely intertwined with vacant structure fires, although not all of these fires are directly related to homelessness. Arrington emphasized the need to address this problem in a comprehensive manner. He stressed the importance of collaboration and exploring all available resources to tackle the larger issue at hand.

To mitigate the risks posed by vacant buildings, SAFD is working with the city to implement better marking systems for dangerous buildings, enabling firefighters to exercise increased caution. Arrington also urged property owners to take responsibility for sealing up vacant homes or buildings to prevent unauthorized entry.

As the Winter months approach, the situation may worsen, as people experiencing homelessness seek shelter and warmth. Arrington cautioned that we could potentially witness a surge in vacant structure fires during this period. It is crucial for communities to address this multifaceted problem collectively and ensure the availability of resources for those in need, while also taking measures to secure vacant properties.

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