VANCOUVER -- On Saturday, police said two minors set fire to a duplex in Northeast Vancouver and neighbors said it's something that could have been prevented if the so-called "problem property" had been dealt with before that.
It's an issue Vancouver firefighters, police and building officials said is draining resources and money. And they said it's a problem many cities are experiencing across the country following the recession.
When another vacant home at Southeast 192nd Avenue and 15th Street went up in flames last Wednesday, it drew a crowd and a lot of resources. Crews said a firefighter was hospitalized for fatigue and dehydration.
Four days later, at 2720 NE 85th Avenue, fire crews said another vacant duplex was set on fire by two young boys. It was a spectacle for neighbors and Vancouver fire said it was the fourth fire at a vacant or foreclosed property in Vancouver in the month of April.
"They're just an attraction to children and homeless people. People throw their garbage there, they play in it, people tag it with graffiti. It's like a magnet for trouble," said Chad Lawry, Deputy Fire Marshall with Vancouver Fire Department.
A magnet that Vancouver city officials said uses up money and resources.
Before the fire, the duplex was covered in grafitti. It had been broken into at least a dozen times and, neighbors said it was drawing the wrong crowds and posing a danger for the many kids in the area.
"The house was abandoned, foreclosed upon, and vagrants moved in there. It became dangerous," said neighbor Debbie West.
"It was a complete eyesore and it wasn't fun to walk my potential tenants around. They'd look back and they'd see graffiti and think, 'God, what's back there? Do I really want to live here?'" Said Jenni Dominique, who manages nearby townhomes.
Even before the fires, Vancouver police said vacant homes have been a chronic sources of calls, "When you have abandoned properties that are in a foreclosed state, oftentimes, it's nearly impossible to get ahold of a property owner," said Kim Kapp of the Vancouver Police Department.
A woman at the scene of Saturday's fire did not want to do an on-camera interview but said she had been fighting with the bank over the property. Bank of America told KGW that, as of 2012, they were no longer servicing the loan for the duplex. Bank staff said the company, Select Portfolio Servicing, was now servicing the loan. KGW tried to contact SPS, but couldn't reach a representative without giving an account or Social Security number.
The city said there's a simple solution to the problems that go along with vacant homes: keep them occupied.
"They should be sold. They need to be rented out, people need to be in those vacant buildings. That's the best way to address these problems, not locking them up and not boarding them up," said Sree Thirunagari, Vancouver building official who manages code compliance and building inspections for the city.
He added that if the owner of the property on Northeast 85th Avenue doesn't soon clean up the mess left after the fire, the city will have to put a fence up around the area and pay to have all the rubble hauled off. He said that funding comes from taxpayer money. Thirunagari said it's a safety issue.