New Mexico

Albuquerque sees increase of fires at abandoned and vacant buildings

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — As temperatures drop, the risk of fire only increases, especially on the subway.

A massive subway fire drew a lot of attention, but for the residents of UNM’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon home, things were serious.

“So the first thing I did was grab him and I was like, ‘Hey, let’s grab my TV and my PS4.’ I thought, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ I didn’t care about anything else. I just grabbed my PS4 and TV and ran out of here looking weird holding it all,” said Javier Roueda, a student at UNM.

Jokes aside, Roueda says the vacant house next door on Monte Vista Drive was a magnet for trouble.

“It was on fire and the flames actually hit our house,” Roueda said. “This is where the homeless would hang out the most. They break into things and stuff and sometimes they throw rocks at our windows and stuff. For example, this window here, everything cracked, a stone was thrown at it.

Data now shows that vacant properties like this one in Albuquerque are more likely to catch fire.

“We find that homeless people are occupying these buildings,” said AFR Lt. Tom Ruiz.

Therefore, KOB 4 requested the addresses of all vacant or abandoned property fires in Albuquerque dating back to the fall before the pandemic. Since October 2019 there have been a total of 142.

The data shows some clusters in the International District, but vacant buildings are catching fire in all corners of the city — and with greater frequency.

In the colder months leading up to the pandemic, the Albuquerque Fire Department responded to 15 fires in vacant buildings. In the same period, it was 24 next year and 27 last year.

In 2020, during the pandemic, there were only 29 fires on vacant lots in Albuquerque. That number rose to 52 last year, and this year we’ve already seen 50 – with the busiest period yet to come.

“Has the problems next door – does that bother you at all?

“It’s a bit annoying, but we kind of keep to ourselves. It’s all cool, especially around here you don’t want to get involved in anything that could harm you. We’re more focused on each other’s safety,” Roueda said.

Albuquerque Fire Department officials say they don’t have an answer as to why they’re seeing an increase, but their primary focus is on life, safety and property protection.

“A lot of people could have been injured. Luckily no one did,” said Roueda.

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