Who Foots Bill for Modesto Vacant Home Fires?

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Firefighters in Modesto are constantly racing to vacant home fires, which is becoming a drain on resources.

Crews attacked a fire last Friday along Main Street.  The flames turned the home's garage into a pile of rubble. It was the second fire at the home in weeks, and it’s a frustrating call for firefighters.

"This home has had several fires within the last year,” Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Tim Tietjen said.

It’s not the only one. Vacant homes are becoming prime real estate for squatters and danger.

"They’re seeking out warmth in the winter and they’re building warming fires and different things like that inside the structures," Tietjen said.

It happened at 724 Empire Avenue. Tietjen and his crew returned to the house Tuesday, and only a shell remains. Both homes on the property were destroyed.

The last fire happened two weeks ago. According to firefighters, since they’ve been out here they’ve noticed signs that someone may have been seeking shelter inside what they call a dangerous building including a trash bag found inside the home.

Neighbors like Juan Ortiz said they've seen many homeless people in the neighborhood.

"I see a lot of people walking on the street and the back in the (alley) behind the houses,” Ortiz said.

City leaders told FOX40 they've asked the property owner to demolish the building. If the owner does not take action within 30 days, the city may tear down the building with taxpayer dollars.

"They (city officials) may not be able to find the owners. The owners may be deceased. The property just may be in probate or something to that effect,” Tietjan said.

The City Development department claims the bill will ultimately go to the property owner. If they can't pay, they may face a  lien on their property.

The city also says once demolished they may put the property up for auction.

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