Abandoned house fire in WLR most likely started by squatters

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - A house in west Little Rock is the latest abandoned home in the city to go up in flames on Sunday. Fire officials are led to believe the blaze may have been started unintentionally by squatters.

Firefighters were called out to the Embassy Suites hotel off Financial Centre Parkway shortly before 1:00 PM on Sunday for reports of a structure fire. Crews had to use a chainsaw to cut through a wooden fence behind the hotel to get to an abandoned home behind the hotel's parking lot. Little Rock Fire Captain Jason Weaver said there was no road access to the home.

"The structure was unoccupied, appearing to be abandoned," said Weaver. "No injuries, no one inside."

But even though no one was inside at the time, witnesses told LRFD that they had seen people coming and going from the abandoned property before the flames started flying, personal belongings in hand.

Weaver said squatters, abandoned homes and fires are all too common this time of year.

"We have several fires through the year, especially during the winter months with squatters, sometimes kids," said Weaver.

Even though there are several options for the homeless during the winter months, like the Salvation Army downtown, that's not always their first option. Tina McFadden, director of social services for the Salvation Army said distance can sometimes be a factor.

"If a house is ten feet away and the shelter is ten miles; they probably will pick the house," said McFadden.

Opting for abandoned homes over Little Rock's several homeless shelters may also have to do with the amount of space available. The Salvation Army only has 69 beds and they're full.

"That's one of the unfortunates, that we only have a limited amount of beds," said McFadden, mentioning having to live up to fire code like any other building.

"But if someone comes here and we're full we'll refer them or call to see if there are available beds elsewhere."

However for many it's the shelter rules and regulations that are a turn off to shelter living, making homes like the one that went up in flames on Sunday a more viable option.

And it's not just the homeless; it's sometimes kids hosting parties, even drug usage inside abandoned homes that lead to fires. They're blazes that could end up hampering response time to fires where people might actually be in danger.