Suspicious fires, code violations: City requests meeting with vacant building owners

Fire investigators believe vagrants may be setting fires at NE side building

SAN ANTONIO – After two suspicious fires in less than two months, the city is asking to meet with the owners of a vacant Northeast Side building.

The old boarding home at 4703 Goldfield Road was shut down in 2014 and has since become a property known for vagrants and squatters.

A fire lit up the vacant building Oct. 30 and again Dec. 19. Both times, firefighters believed squatters set the fires. 

"For there to be fires in the area, it's because somebody is staying in there," said Cynthia Alcala, who works next to the building.

The San Antonio Fire Department has not been able to confirm arson as the cause, but the building has been vacant since 2014. It used to be a boarding home, but electrical, roofing and fire code violations forced the city to shut it down. 

Since then, people who work nearby have become frustrated with the property.

"I would say it's somebody trying to keep warm and it just gets out of control. You just never know around here," Alcala said.

Alcala pointed out what looked like a small homeless camp in the field alongside the building.

A representative for the property owners said they board the building up, but people keep finding a way back in and they cannot stop it. She said the property is for sale and has been for a while.

The city's code compliance division requires vacant buildings to be secure (with boards if needed) and be clean, meaning no trash and maintained vegetation.

On Wednesday, the building was boarded up and the grass was cut, but a city spokesperson said code officers have been there on and off since 2014 and have found violations. 

That's why the city has requested the property owners meet with the Building Standards Board in the next month. The citizen-run board can fine the owners or ask them to repair or even demolish the building.

Alcala knows it's hard to keep vagrants out of a vacant building but still wants changes. She wants to see it "either torn down or built into something better."

The fire department has listed the cause of both fires as undetermined but suspicious. The department is aware of the vagrant activity but has not found a suspect or clear proof someone set the fire. Still, the investigation remains open.

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