After numerous fires, neighbors want abandoned east-side buildings secured

A damaging fire resulted in an emergency demolition overnight. It isn’t an entirely new situation for frustrated neighbors.

SAN ANTONIO — Smoke and flames were visible in the distance as the first fire company called to the 1500 block of South Hackberry was en route at about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

When firefighters arrived on scene, they were on familiar turf; neighbors say the 70-year-old building has burned before.

Fire department radio chatter indicated the fire was significant, threatening nearby structures. More than once, firefighters were cautioned to keep their trucks away from the building due to the possibility of collapsing walls.

Because of the danger, it was a defensive fire fight, with all the work being done from the outside of the structure.

Property records indicate the 1,900-square-foot structure has been a small apartment building listed on the appraisal roll with a value of $176,640.

Now reduced to rubble after the fire, the property has been red-tagged by the city with an order to clean up what remains after an emergency middle-of-the-night demolition job related to the fire damage.

Neighbors who came out to survey the damage said they have been afraid of the vacant building because it attracts homeless people looking for shelter. Juan Lara, who lives a few houses down the street, said an abandoned barber shop next to the destroyed structure has burned three or four times. The building lost Wednesday night, meanwhile, has burned about six times in the past.

“All the neighbors, we are scared because they are always burning,” Lara said, adding many of the fires have happened at night while residents are asleep, increasing the danger. “The flames are high and it scares the neighbors.”

A pastor at a nearby church said he has talked to police about the continuing problem but hasn’t noticed a change in the danger level caused by people gaining access to the building for shelter. 

Patrick Dennette owns a T-shirt business across the street and remembers the former barber shop burning one night in February.  He said he drove by to survey the scene after a friend called him and asked if his business was on fire. 

“Nobody wants the business they are working hard for to burn down,” Dennette said.

With regard to the people who get into the building illegally, Dennette said he would like to see more regular inspections.  

The city’s 3-1-1 help center director says both buildings have open cases with code compliance. Code requires property owners to secure vacant buildings, but they said each case has its own challenges.

Property owners have the right to due process, so it takes time to get court orders to force non-compliant owners to follow the law.  They also said they encourage property owners to bring buildings up to standards and use the concept of demolition only as a last resort. 

In the meantime, they encourage anyone who has a problem with a vacant structure to report through the 3-1-1 system, noting it’s not always effective to assume someone else has reported an issue.

And they recommend continuing to report problems even after a complaint is filed because that’s how they build a stronger case to hold owners accountable.

The Vacant Property Maintenance section can be reached by dialing 3-1-1 or submitting a request here



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