ST. LOUIS — The vacant home where a firefighter died in the line of duty is now torn down, but it took years too long according to some neighbors and politicians.
The home sat vacant for more than a decade. City records show it was owned by someone in Arkansas who was behind on their taxes. The owner also reportedly ignored city demands to take care of it and then it collapsed on a firefighter who was making sure no one was inside when it burned.
It’s not uncommon for vacant homes to burn when homeless people start fires to keep warm.
“This is what keeps me up at night you know. What’s the next house that’s going to be set on fire?” said Alderman Jeffrey Boyd.
Boyd met with FOX 2’s Chris Hayes near the scene of Thursday’s vacant home fire. Two more vacant homes are boarded up across the street.
“That’s the big challenge that a lot of people don’t understand,” Boyd said. “Oftentimes you have homeowners that live out of town. The city cites them for whatever citations are warranted. They don’t respond. You put them in housing court. They don’t show up.”
City records show it was three years ago when inspectors condemned the home that burned. The City says it also issued thousands of dollars in uncollected fines to the out-of-town owners.
“These are properties, that as we’ve seen – they’re death traps – and we’ve got to clean them up,” said State Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis.
Baringer introduced legislation to help St. Louis leaders act quicker. She’s co-sponsored HB2217 & HB2218.
“The process to actually streamline getting someone to come clean them up, keep them from getting to the point where there are trees growing out of the roof is a process that State that is set up by State Statute,” she said. “Please not only should we pass it – but it also needs to have an emergency clause. It needs to happen tomorrow.”
Boyd cautions, though, on how city leaders respond, saying, “We can’t just tear down every vacant building. We will destroy the architectural landscape of a once vibrant community.
He points to former Arlington School that he says he was pressured to demolish.
“I resisted,” Boyd said. “And today I’m proud to say that was a $34 million housing development called Arlington Grove over there on Martin Luther King and Burd that I’m so proud of. But had I listened to the naysayers, it would have never happened. We would have just town down a vibrant building.”
The job is huge, with St. Louis having ten thousand vacant properties, many owned by the city itself. Boyd says he’s requested a list of all of them so that he can work block by block with city leaders.