The 110-year-old house burns down and Bakersfield Fire Brigade is frustrated by the increase in homeless fires

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The city of Bakersfield is well on its way to a record year of structural fires, and most have been deliberately closed. The fire department says a major cause is temporary activity. It is said that something must be done before more firefighters are injured and more buildings are burned down.

“I was about 2 years old when we moved into this house and we lived in it until I was 6th grade,” said Jennifer Weigel, a Bakersfield resident.

Jennifer Weigel grew up on 17th Street and D Street in a house built in 1910. This is she with her two brothers in front of the house. And that’s her mother inside, near the fireplace with one of those brothers.

“The doors of the dining room were made of thick wood that slid into the walls,” said Weigel. “The kitchen and dining room both had built-in cabins.”

Weigel moved out in the 80s but often thought of the old school design of the house.

“The bathroom had the slide in the bathroom that you could put the clothes in so they could go downstairs to the laundry,” said Weigel. “You don’t see things like that anymore.”

Her parents’ house caught fire twice this year. Firefighters quickly put out the first fire in February. Investigators said it was caused by homeless people. The second set the whole house up in flames and burned a firefighter’s face.

“And so that it was the last house on this block, this whole block was a nice house up and down this whole street,” said Weigel.

Last year 575 fires burned in Bakersfield, nearly 400 of which were deliberately started.

“They’re not always here when we’re on the ground, and sometimes we can’t find the people who started them,” said Mike Walkley, battalion chief, Bakersfield Fire Department. “But you can tell if you talk to the people in the area and what’s going on here is a lot of temporary activity.”

That year, the firefighters responded to around 60 fires every month. That means the city could see more than 700 this year – a record number.

“When the temporary, homeless population is on the rise, it is more of a response than a preventive one,” Walkley said.

According to Bakersfield Fire, most fires occur in vacant buildings that burn more than once. These buildings have lost their structural integrity and pose an even greater threat to the fire service.

“I know there are many pieces in this whole puzzle, but we are not yet there as a community to solve the temporary problem,” said Walkley.

If you have information about a local fire, contact the arson investigators at 1-877-FIRE-TIP (1-877-347-3847). Click here to report a homeless camp.

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