SPOKANE, Wash.--Squatters are turning to vacant Spokane homes as temperatures drop.
Spokane Fire Department leaders said squatters will be trying to find a place to stay warm as the temperatures get ready to dip. They said they often turn to vacant homes.
Roughly 75% of fires at vacant properties turn out to be the result of squatters according to SFD leaders.
Neighbors of one vacant Spokane home said they see squatters come and go at all hours of the day. They said they have already caused a lot of damage.
Vacant properties have become unofficial shelters for the homeless. No heat, plumbing or electricity is in the homes but there is obvious evidence that someone is living there.
“Huge issues. I mean, obviously, a lot of the businesses or the homes that are boarded up are boarded up for a reason,” said Brian Schaeffer with the Spokane Fire Department.
Fire officials said three out of four vacant buildings that catch on fire are from squatters using unsafe methods of cooking or trying to stay warm.
Ricky Stafford and his family said squatters are just a few doors down in their East Spokane neighborhood despite multiple neighbors telling the unwanted visitors to leave.
Neighbors said there are plenty of vacant homes all around them with squatters in almost every one.
Officials said in addition to creating fire hazards many times the squatters strip copper wiring and plumbing from the property, creating an even more dangerous situation.
“People in extreme circumstances often go to extreme measures sometimes, just to stay alive,” said Schaeffer.
The City said the best thing to do is report a problem property so those living inside can get the resources they really need.
Neighbors said they have reported the issue in the past.