Fires to stay warm in vacant, unsecured buildings a winter hazard

Fire prevention and homelessness in Albany

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - With the temperatures dropping to freezing, Albany’s homeless population is struggling to keep warm.

Vacant and unsecured buildings can be an easy location for vagrants to spend the night, but when it becomes too cold, they start fires to keep warm and could become extremely dangerous.

Property owners need to make sure their buildings are secure.

In 2018, there were two fires in downtown Albany — both believed to be caused by vagrants — which destroyed the old Albany Theatre and the former Inn and Suites Motel.

APD said three men, believed to be homeless and living inside the former Albany Theatre, had to be rescued from the fire.

The coroner told WALB at the time one man died from smoke inhalation.

Homeless people going into buildings to spend the night and making fires can be extremely dangerous, said Eugene Anderson, assistant chief of fire prevention and education.

“Those individuals, if they become incapacitated for some reason or another, they could be trapped in the building,” Anderson said.

Eugene Anderson, assistant chief of fire prevention and education (Source: WALB)
Eugene Anderson, assistant chief of fire prevention and education (Source: WALB)

And then when firefighters come to the scene to do a search and rescue, the assistant chief pointed out, they can become disoriented in the burning building.

Anderson also said there’s a strong possibility the building could collapse in the event of a fire.

He explained the homeless may try to start a fire in a can to try to contain it. But when they’re in a building, this is not a good idea.

If you’re a property owner, officials recommend making sure your building is locked and windows are secure so vagrants can’t get in.

If they do and they start a fire, there can be some serious dangers they probably didn’t think about, officials said.

“They certainly don’t think about the off gassing of whatever it is that they are trying to produce that heat with," Anderson said. "And the potential for that off gassing to try to put them to sleep.”

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