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Vacant Building Fires Put Westside Residents on Edge

Nearly 40 percent of building fires in Rockford this month have involved vacant buildings

ROCKFORD—"They look horrible just sitting there."

Bettye Cable isn’t a fan of vacant properties in her west side neighborhood.

"I feel like it's dangerous especially with the kids with them going to the swimming pool and the house being right there,” Cable said.

The James Leslie Harkins Aquatic Center is a popular place for kids. It sits directly across the street from three vacant buildings. One of those caught fire on Thursday.

"It wasn't notified in a real timely manner because nobody was outside,” said Matthew Knott, Rockford Fire Department’s Division Chief. “Nobody saw anything until the fire had progressed quite rapidly."

Of the 18 fires that the Rockford Fire Department responded to this month, seven of those are to vacant buildings. Vacant buildings can be a safety hazard and eye-sore in Rockford but it’s a problem across America.

"This is a community wide issue and this is a nationwide problem of vacant unsecured buildings,” said Matthew Knott, Rockford Fire Department’s Division Chief. “The best thing we can do is to be good neighbors, be aware of their surroundings, make sure we call upon the proper city authority to help us with these issues."

Neighbors say this house has seen its share of homeless using it for shelter and that creates a level of uncertainty.

"You don't know to go check on them, call or leave them alone,” said Bianca Roberson. “You don't know what's going on."

That also means firefighters don't know who might be inside.

"Vacant structures prompt us to take less risk because we're unsure of what we have in store there.” Knott said. "(They) are very, very dangerous to firefighters.
That's one thing we hope the neighbors do is report any vacant structures and make sure they are secure and all criminal activity and trespassing reported."

While the number of fires in the month of July has increased from a year ago, Knott knows this issue is more about vacant buildings and demolition.

"There is limited funding available,” Knott said. “But there's a lot of hardwork going on behind the scenes to get these properties in a safer state."

The fear of another fire like this one has Cable on edge.

"My biggest fear is the kids seeing something like that and telling their mom like we just seen this man laid out on the porch. It's kinda scary."

VACANT STRUCTURES IN ROCKFORD THAT HAVE CAUGHT FIRE IN JULY

7/3/13 -- 610 9th Street
7/5/13 -- 206 Ashley Avenue
7/11/13 -- 501 Kilburn Avenue
7/11/13 -- 710 Horseman Street
7/25/13 -- 911 Acorn Street
7/25/13 -- 4628 South Main Street
7/26/13 -- 2030 Parmele Street

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