ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Fires in abandoned buildings continue to be on the rise in Albuquerque; just like one started earlier this month at the University of New Mexico. Fires at these properties can present challenges for firefighters trying to put them out.

So far this year, the city’s Solid Waste Department has gotten around 827 requests from people to board up abandoned and problem properties. The ADAPT Program is the city’s way of keeping a handle on them and trying to get these nuisance properties up to code.

The ADAPT Program was created in 2019 to address the nuisance property problem. Through it, Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR), the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), and the city’s Planning and Zoning and Code Enforcement departments all work together to address this issue. “Through the ADAPT program we identify those properties and what they do is work with the property owner to get them back up to code,” says Lieutenant Tom Ruiz, public information officer for AFR.

If they can’t, the properties get boarded up. The aim of this is to curb serious criminal activity at these places and to stop them from being a public safety threat. However, even after they’re dealt with by ADAPT, these secured properties can still create challenges for first responders – especially if they catch fire.

“They pose a significant danger to us, rather than just a standard home fire. The reason being, because it’s boarded up, the natural means of entry and egress are now altered,” Ruiz says. On top of that danger, there’s the question of whether the structure is even stable to begin with.

This year alone, there have been more than 50 fires at abandoned properties in the city. Fire officials suspect the fires are started by anything from criminal activity to juvenile offenders to homeless people trying to stay warm.

Last year, there were 52 abandoned property fires for the whole year. That’s up from 2020, too, when there were only 29. “We are aware that there seems to be a little bit of an uptick in terms of how many there have been this year compared to last year,” Ruiz says.

When responding to these types of fires, Ruiz says tactics are different: “What our primary concerns are is search – making sure there’s nobody inside the building – and once that’s established, we sort of change modes and making sure that the surrounding buildings and surrounding aren’t affected by the fire.”

As the temperature continues to drop at night, Ruiz says house fires happen even more often as people try to keep warm. Right now, there are 60 properties on the ADAPT program’s list. If there is a problem property in your neighborhood, officials encourage you to report it to the ADAPT Program.

According to a spokesperson for Solid Waste in the city, there were 775 completed board-up requests in Fiscal Year 2022, and 384 for Fiscal Year 2023.