Condemned homes potential fire risk in La Crosse

Early Wednesday, in the span of 15 minutes, an old north side home in the 300 block of Rose Street was almost engulfed in flames.

“As we walk to the north side of the property here.”

The La Crosse Fire department has seen homes like this one catch fire before.

“You’ll start to see a better idea of where this fire occurred,” explained Assistant Chief Craig Snyder of the La Crosse Fire Department.

The home has been condemned for several years after the person living there died but it wasn’t empty.

“Are they truly a vacant structure? Or are we dealing with people breaking into them to do illegal activities?” asked Fire Chief Ken Gilliam.

The cause of this fire is still under investigation. Gilliam saw signs of people trespassing in the home for shelter and possibly more.

“As we got into it, quite a few hypodermic needles, a lot of garbage. Evidence that people had been using that house for other things than it was intended for.”

The longer condemned houses are empty, the more likely someone is living inside for shelter and trying to stay warm.

“They’re going to heat it with some source. Usually a live fire,” explained Gilliam.

“As a home sits for a long period of time, there’s a higher risk,”added Snyder.

Despite the risk, the fire department can’t clear out these properties easily.

“If we just go through and tear a property down, there’s a lein holder or interest holder on that property, then they can turn back and file suit against the city,”explained Snyder.

Buildings like these need to be cleared through all possible owners before tearing them down.

“Going through these processes can take months and sometimes years.”

Wednesday morning’s fire damaged this property enough to potentially speed up the process to have the building razed.

“This property has now fallen into that category due to the extent of the fire damage,” explained Snyder.

But other long condemned properties are a fire risk especially in the winter.

Not all condemned homes can be boarded up to prevent people from entering.

This is because some condemned buildings can be repaired or reclaimed by the owner.

Adding boards can cause significant damage to the structure.

Homes can only be boarded up when they are damaged beyond repair, which is what happened with the fire Wednesday morning.

If you know of a condemned house and notice someone moving in, or suspicious activity, the fire department wants you to call them or the police to try to prevent more fires.

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