CALEXICO — Abandoned house fires are nothing new for Calexico, which has seen more than its share in the last year and more, as the source continues to be related to the high number of transients and the issue of homelessness, according to a fire captain.
On Saturday morning, April 3, around 5 a.m., both Calexico Fire Department stations, with an assist from a small county fire crew, knocked down a fully engulfed structure that was boarded and without utilities, a blaze that briefly threatened a multi-unit, two-story apartment complex to the north of the property, Calexico fire Capt. Arnold Rivera said on Sunday, April 4.
Few details were available about the small fire on Saturday, as the crews responsible for putting it out went off duty a few hours later, Rivera indicated.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and as bad as it is (the homeless situation) in the Valley … I haven’t seen it like this in a long time,” said Rivera, referring to the transients in the city that have resulted in numerous fires in abandoned dwellings over the course of more than a year.
In early 2020, as the pandemic was kicking into high gear, there were a spate of fires in abandoned dwellings and former businesses, which has continued, and some of those had proven to be arsons, with several arrests made by police.
Yet many of those fires, some in boarded and condemned former single-family homes and some at lean-tos or homeless encampments, were the result of warming or cooking fires, too.
The similarities between the intentional and the accidental were that they were fires started at the hands of a human in structures where electrical or other causes were ruled out.
“This wasn’t an arson per se,” Rivera said of Saturday’s fire at 825 Paulin Ave., near Temple Court, just east of Imperial Avenue/Highway 111 and a few blocks south of Birch Avenue/Highway 98. “It was definitely started by humans, whether accidental or intentional … it will probably go under undetermined.”
Often these types of fires have been called suspected arson cases in the past, due to a loose definition of the term. In most instances an arson is the willful or malicious intent to burn an implied occupied dwelling.
No one was around when firefighters arrived at the dwelling Saturday morning, and Rivera said the structure was in some form of “abatement” with the city because there was a posted document on the front stating it was unsafe.
The fire itself started somewhere in the center of the former dwelling and wouldn’t have been much of a concern had it not been for the fire progressing through the north end with flame presenting from the north-facing windows, where Rivera said clearance between the back of the house and the two-story apartment complex on Paulin was just 10 to 12 feet.
Police were on hand to evacuate the tenants of the first four units near the housefire, two apartments on the ground floor and two on the top floor, Rivera said. He added the apartment complex is home to eight to 10 units.
Calexico fire officials, which were there with full crews from both of Calexico’s two stations, sounded a modified second alarm, requesting a single truck from Imperial County fire, including three firefighters and a battalion chief, Capt. Rivera explained, for structure protection.
Fire crews made short work on the blaze, knocking it down in about 30 minutes. In all, 14 fire personnel were at the scene at the height of the fire.
Although Rivera said the cause of the fire is “cut and dried,” the case remained under investigation, with fire personnel set to do some additional sleuthing on Monday, April 5, the captain added.
“We’re looking at some potential evidence from the scene,” Rivera said.