110-year-old home burns down, Bakersfield Fire Department frustrated by rise in homeless fires

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – The City of Bakersfield is on track for a record year of structure fires, and most were intentionally set. The fire department says a major cause is transient activity. It says something needs to be done, before more firefighters are injured and more buildings burned.

“I was about 2-years-old when we moved into that house and we lived in it until I was in 6th grade,” said Jennifer Weigel, Bakersfield resident.

Jennifer Weigel grew up at 17th and D streets in a house that was built in 1910. This is her in front of the house with her two brothers. And this is her mom inside, near the fireplace with one of those brothers.

“The dining room doors were thick wood that slid into the walls,” Weigel said. “The kitchen and the dining room both had the built-in hutches in them.”

Weigel moved out in the 80s, but often thought about the home’s old-school design.

“The bathroom had the chute inside the bathroom that you could put the clothes in so they would go downstairs to the laundry,” Weigel said. “You don’t see stuff like that anymore.”

Her childhood home caught fire twice this year. Firefighters quickly put out the first fire in February. Investigators said it was caused by homeless people. The second brought the whole house down in flames and burned a firefighter’s face.

“And for it to be the last home on that block, that whole block used to be beautiful houses up and down that whole street,” Weigel said.

575 fires burned in Bakersfield last year, almost 400 of them were intentionally set.

“They’re not always here when we arrive on scene and sometimes we don’t find the individuals that started it,” said Mike Walkley, Battalion Chief, Bakersfield Fire Department. “But you can tell by talking to the people in the area and what is going on around here there is a lot of transient activity.”

This year, firefighters responded to around 60 fires each month. That means the city could see more than 700 this year – a record high number.

“When the transient, homeless population is on the rise, it’s more of a reaction that we’re taking instead of a preventative,” Walkley said.

Bakersfield Fire says most of the fires happen in vacant buildings that burn more than once. These buildings that have lost structural integrity and are an even greater danger to firefighters.

“I know there’s a lot of pieces to this whole puzzle that have been put into place but we’re still not there yet as a community to mitigate the transient problem,” Walkley said.

If you have any information on a local fire, contact arson investigators at 1-877-FIRE-TIP (1-877-347-3847). Click here to report a homeless encampment.

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