ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It appears a fire this week in an Albuquerque neighborhood was started by the homeless. The fire spread to another house and two cars. Neighbors and Albuquerque Fire Rescue say this is a growing problem in the city.
Tuesday evening, the corner of Chama and Trumbull went up in flames. “The house that we responded to was a boarded-up house. It was directly adjacent to another small home,” says Lt. Tom Ruiz, public information officer for Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR). That adjacent home quickly caught fire as well, displacing the family inside and destroying their cars packed out back. One homeowner was injured while trying to extinguish the fire with a garden hose.
Neighbors we spoke in the immediate area say this was a shocking scene to come home to—a home burning so close to their own. “I see the fire in my home. I see the boom, pero I don’t know how,” says Geraldo Bustillos, who lives nearby.
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“It was big, hot. I mean, the neighbors were terrified, it caught the neighbors house too,” says Melchor Hernandez, who lives across the street, “It was real thick, black, lotta smoke.”
AFR says the cause of the fire is unknown right now, but they believe it was accidental. Neighbors tell KRQE News 13 they’ve seen homeless people in the area recently. “There’s an apartment right there in the corner they’ve been hanging out there. They’ve been putting tents up and all that there,” Hernandez says.
Regardless of the cause of this particular fire, officials do say there have been quite a few abandoned structure fires lately: 30 in the past six months alone. “From November to the beginning of March were the majority of those, right, and those are during the colder months. From March till now—the end of April beginning of May, there’s been approximately nine of them…It does seem like we go to them a little bit more than in the past,” Ruiz says. He says they—and other city departments—do what they can to make sure the vacant buildings are inaccessible to keep people out. However, neighbors next to the most recent fire think more needs to be done.
“They need a lot of like, more patrolling and stuff around, making sure you know, there’s no homeless people cause that could happen again in somebody else’s neighborhood and that’s not good,” Hernandez says.
Lt. Ruiz says the abandoned structure fires are often the result of homeless people trying to keep themselves warm. He says in addition to posing a risk to the communities these fires happen in, it poses more risks to firefighter trying to save life and property.