Second vacant house fire in as many days raises worries about homeless and the cold

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ST. LOUIS – A vacant three-story home went up in flames Thursday morning in west St. Louis That fire is the second in two days believed to be set by the homeless. Temperatures dipped to near freezing Thursday morning and will do so again early Friday. St. Louis firefighters are concerned these fires could become more numerous.

Before dawn, fire could be seen pouring out of the windows of the home on Cabanne Avenue, near Union, in the Visitation Park neighborhood. Firefighters conducted a search but had to evacuate due to the danger of the flames. Three people were able to escape the burning building and were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening burn injuries.

On Wednesday, the department battled a vacant house fire on Theodosia Avenue in the Kingsway West neighborhood. A woman was rescued from the burning building. A firefighter suffered minor injuries after part of the ceiling gave way.

The exact cause of these fires is under investigation, but fire crews say it likely began with people who are homeless trying to keep warm on a very cold night. Small warming fires often spread quickly through decaying homes and can leap to surrounding structures, putting others at risk.

The city of St. Louis has announced efforts to provide even more help for those on the streets this winter. When temperatures fall below 32 degrees, warm beds available at partnering shelters including Biddle House and Gateway 180. Buses will be waiting on 13th and Chestnut to take people to those activated shelters. The city also plans to provide Metro passes free of charge to help with transportation. Beginning December 1, there will be continuous shelter operations in St. Louis without temperature restrictions.

Firefighters urge the neighbors of vacant properties to check on them regularly and make sure they are secured. If they are not, contact police.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact the following resources:

The St. Louis Housing Hotline: 314-802-5444
The United Way:  211
The Biddle House’s Housing Opportunities Center: 314-612-1675
Heat Up St. Louis: 314-241-7668 or https://heatupstlouis.org/contact/

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