Fire investigators looking into reports of ‘squatters’ seen inside home that burned

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio fire investigators are trying to determine whether a fire that broke out inside a vacant home Wednesday morning might have been started by “squatters.”

The fire broke out after 6 a.m. and sent up smoke that could be seen throughout the downtown area.

RELATED: Firefighters respond after fire breaks out at home just north of downtown

When fire crews arrived at the two-story home, located in the 800 block of W. Poplar Street, they found flames coming from the second floor.

“They did a search of the structure, and the search came back that nobody was actually inside at the time,” said Battalion Chief David Prado with SAFD.

Firefighters quickly began attacking the fire, which made its way into the attic.

Firefighters can be seen in the second floor window, trying to attack the flames which had burned into the attic. (KSAT 12 News)

Although they found the ground-floor doors and windows boarded up, they also found evidence that someone had found a way inside the house.

“Clothes, there’s food items,” Prado said. “So we do believe that people were squatting in this structure.”

Victor Villarreal, who lives across the street, says he knows for a fact that has been happening.

“Every day you see people going in and out,” Villarreal said. “They crawl up that drainpipe, go into the second story window and come back down and open the back door for everyone else.”

West Poplar house fire image. (KSAT)

Villarreal said he has called San Antonio police dozens of times during the five years he has lived in the neighborhood.

However, he says, the intruders are able to conceal themselves from officers.

According to SAPD records, officers have been called to the home for suspicious activity five times since the beginning of this year. It is unclear whether any of those calls resulted in arrests.

As of late Wednesday morning, police had not provided that information.

Villarreal said while the owners moved out a few years ago, the home has been a neighborhood fixture for generations.

Real estate records online show it was built in 1929.

“It’s sad because, like I said, it’s one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood,” Villarreal said. “I hate to see it go like that.”

Investigators, so far, have not determined the exact cause of the fire, nor have they made any arrests.

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