Burned house blamed on vagrants breaking the law

Burned house blamed on vagrants breaking the law

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Albany Firefighters are prepared for more fires as vagrants use dangerous methods to stay warm.

A large, vacant Albany house was destroyed by fire early Thursday morning. Investigators say vagrants rigged the power box to get electricity, then a space heater sparked the blaze.

Emergency responders worry people will be killed by stealing electricity to stay warm in this dangerous cold.

The house in the 200 block of West Second Avenue is a complete loss. It was supposedly vacant, with no power. Investigators say vagrants put a metal bridge in the meter box to jump the electricity back on. Pieces of a heater show it shorted out, sparking the blaze.

Albany Fire Department Investigator Sam Harris said "The retainer ring for the space heater. There is the wire that runs into the space heater."

The vacant house next door also had a tampered meter box, and inside a bed where people were sleeping.

WG&L Investigator Mickey Bradford said, "They are just trying to survive, but they are risking their lives to do it."

WG&L employees wear protective gear when working with power meters, because deadly levels of electricity flow here.

"We have special gloves and hard hats that we wear in case you have a cross feed when you are plugging a meter in . And if the meter blows back on you," Bradford said.

This morning's fire not only endangered the vagrants inside, but also the firefighters battling it, and other homes in the neighborhood. And firefighters say they anticipate more in these next two frigid days.

"You can almost predict an increase in fires. And of course we have another couple of days of this type of temperature, which is going to add to the problem," Fire Chief James Carswell said.

Cold so brutal that some South Georgians are willing to risk their lives to steal electricity and run heaters to warm up.

First responders are urging the homeless and vagrants to go to shelters for warmth tonight. And they ask homeowners who see suspicious activity at vacant houses to call 911.

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