Albuquerque sees increase of fires at abandoned, vacant buildings

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As temperatures drop the fire risk only increases, especially in the metro.

A massive metro fire grabbed a lot of attention, but for the residents of UNM’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon house it was serious.

“So the first thing I did, is I grabbed him and was like ‘yo, let’s grab my TV and my PS4’ I was like, ‘let’s get out of here!’ I didn’t care about anything else. I just grabbed my PS4 and my TV, ran out here, looked all funny holding everything,” said Javier Roueda, a UNM student. 

Jokes aside, Roueda says the vacant house next door on Monte Vista Drive has been a magnet for problems.

“It was up in flames and the flames were actually blowing onto our house,” said Roueda. “Right here is where the homeless people would stay at the most. They break into things and stuff and sometimes, like – they’ll throw rocks at our windows and stuff. Like, this window right here it’s all cracked, it had a rock thrown at it.”

Data now shows empty properties like that one are catching fire more often in Albuquerque.

“We do find that the homeless population has been known to occupy those buildings,” said AFR Lt. Tom Ruiz. 

So KOB 4 requested the addresses of every vacant, or abandoned property fire in Albuquerque going back to the fall before the pandemic. There were 142 in total since October 2019.

Data shows some clusters in the International District, but vacant buildings are catching fire in all corners of the city – with greater frequency.

In the colder months, before the pandemic, Albuquerque Fire Rescue responded to 15 vacant structure fires.  In the same time frame the next year there was 24, and last year had 27.

In 2020, during the pandemic, there were only 29 vacant property fires in Albuquerque. That number shot up to 52 last year, and this year we’ve already seen 50 – with the busiest time still to come.

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

“It’s a little bit annoying, but we kind of keep to ourselves. It’s all cool especially, ’round here you don’t want to get yourself into something that like might harm you. We’re more focused on the safety of each other,” said Roueda. 

Albuquerque Fire Rescue representatives say they have no answer as to why they are seeing an increase but their main focus is life, safety, and property conservation.

“A lot of people could’ve gotten hurt. Luckily, nobody did,” Roueda said.