A vacant former church just outside the Calexico city limits burned on Feb. 5, among the most recent in a rash of fires in and around the city thought to have been caused accidentally or intentionally by transients. | Corissa Ibarra photo
CALEXICO — Two more vacant property fires around Calexico recently appear to once again have been set by transients, including a fourth blaze set at the corner of Seventh Street and Emerson Avenue, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the city’s
response is affected by a lingering issue, Calexico City Manager David Dale
said Feb 10.
arson. We’re just stretched too thin (to do much about it). The Fire Department
is down on staff, the Police Department is down on staff; we’re taking care of
day-to-day business now,” Dale said.
“We’re in response mode
rather than proactive mode because of the resources available to us right now,”
Dale added when asked if it’s gotten to the point where a task force or other
enhanced response is warranted.
The latest fire ignited
at the Seventh and Emerson location around 11:30 p.m. Feb. 7 appears to have
now completely razed the vacant single-family dwelling. It has been the site of
several previous fires, Calexico fire Capt. Eduardo Rivera said Feb. 10.
It is hoped the latest
blaze ends the fires at that location, Rivera said, since “there’s nothing left
Although a couch was lit
ablaze on the same property a few days prior to the Feb. 7 fire, Rivera said
the main damage had come from fires set Jan. 4 and Jan. 17. All are thought to be either the accidental or
intentional work of transients known to frequent the area. Fueling arson
suspicion is the fact that there has been no power or gas running to the
property and evidence of cooking and warming fires could be found, officials
Rivera could not say
whether the Feb. 7 fire was intentional or accidental. However, he did say the
investigation of the Jan. 17 fire revealed an unidentified person was caught on
a nearby security video leaving the property after that fire.
The captain did not say
whether that meant the Jan. 17 fire was an act of arson.
None of the large fires
so far have caused city officials to become concerned about serial arsonists
per se, Rivera added. The blazes do reveal a larger problem with transients
squatting in vacant properties throughout the city and causing the fires.
Two Calexico crews —
one each from stations No. 1 and 2 using a truck with an aerial nozzle — took
down the Feb. 7 fire within 15 minutes without calling in mutual aide, Rivera
Two nights earlier, around
7 or 8 p.m. Feb. 5, a fire was reported at a vacant property on the corner of
Kloke and Cole roads just outside Calexico on county land, said Imperial County
Fire Department Battalion Chief Danny Stauf.
A second alarm was called
and crews from Holtville, El Centro and Calexico responded, Stauf explained. The
location had been vacant for years but had formerly been a church, he added.
With a single structure
with noticeable flames emanating from it when crews arrived, Stauf said there
were two other structures on the compound, both of which were about 100 yards
away. There wasn’t a great need for structure protection other than to
safeguard Imperial Irrigation District infrastructure from burning, he added.
Stauf said power to the
vacant structures had long been off, and there was evidence on site transients
had been living inside the structures with makeshift grills and bedding found
in the area. In addition, he added, it is a known spot for transients to
Both the latest fire at
Seventh and Emerson and the Kloke/Cole fire remained under investigation.
The fires are the most
recent in a rash of blazes in Calexico that began with trash bin fires and more
recently escalated to structures.
On the morning of Jan. 20,
transients were thought to have set a massive four-alarm blaze at the former
Elks Lodge on Third Street and Rockwood Avenue. It required the assistance of
as many as 50 area firefighters. That blaze also is still under investigation.
Rivera said recently that
as many as 100 fires in 2019 and possibly as many as 10 fires so far in 2020
have been caused by transients, considered a combination of accidental and
Frequent trash-bin fires
downtown are among the reasons the city council has recently voted to place
locked gates on some alleys and require locks on trash bins in that area.