The call went out just after 1 p.m. It was a kitchen fire at a vacant home on Helen Avenue. Jamie Patrick says her niece who lives in Alaska is the owner and the home was in the process of being sold. “Nobody has touched it,” Patrick said. “I was just here two days ago.” The cause of the fire will go down as undetermined, but investigators cannot rule out squatters. Neighbor Anita Delaney says she’s tried hard to keep a watch on the property.
“We have a lot of people wandering through the area, so it’s possible,” Delaney said.
However, this fire isn’t unique. All over the valley, vacant house fires are making the news. Tim Szymanski with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue says they’re up 10%. “Most of them are accidental,” Szymanski said. “Squatters don’t want to start fires. They’re living somewhere for free. They have accidents just like you and me.”
Szymanski says it’s up to homeowners to secure their property to make sure squatters aren’t breaking in. He also says neighbors can call code enforcement to lodge complaints. In the City of Las Vegas, that department maintains a registry of vacant properties.
Back on Helen Avenue, the house will be boarded up by the end of the day, but problems for the owner might be just beginning. “You obviously have insurance?” Szymanski said. “No. When she tried to get it, the insurance company said if it’s vacant they can’t insure it.”