BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Another year, another fire: The scourge of 2022 is still with us in 2023. This new year dawned with a vacant home near Jefferson Park turned to a smoldering pile of ruins.
The converted triplex across the street from Jefferson School went up in flames New Year’s Eve, driving next door neighbor Elva Benavidez and her granddaughter out into the street. Benavidez, who has lived here on Lincoln Street for 40 years, said her dog awakened her.
“When he started barking,” she said, “I go, ‘Oh, you know, probably these people again.’ And then something told me, ‘Get up, get up.’ He was barking still. I went to the kitchen and, yeah, he was barking, barking. And I see red all over back here. I looked and said, ‘Oh my God,’ you know, fire, and I called my granddaughter: ‘Get up, get up,’ you know.”
Benavidez’s granddaughter gathered up their dogs and ran out of the house.
“The windows started popping,” Benavidez said. “Oh God, you could feel the heat – the heat. It was ugly.”
They forgot the family’s bird and were overjoyed, sometime later, to see that it survived the smoke from the adjacent house just 80 feet away.
Benavidez said there had been a regular procession of people going in and out of the house for months.
“It’s these homeless people,” she said. “You know, they come in. Just like yesterday, a guy came, homeless, smoking a cigarette. And I said, ‘Oh my God. They’re gonna flick it, it’s gonna start again.’”
This is the second fire in eight months at this house, which is just north of the River Boulevard ramp onto westbound Highway 178. Benavidez said the previous fire reached across and damaged her property.
“My car, in the back, got burnt,’ she said. “My fence got burnt.”
Property owner Robert Castro, who lives about three blocks away, didn’t want to talk on camera, but he told 17 News he’d been going to the house literally every night since the previous fire in May to shoo away trespassers who he said could be aggressive and even threatening.
He said he intended to repair and save the structure, a copy of a Frank Lloyd Wright design, he said, built in 1914.
Fire in vacant houses continues to plague Bakersfield. Several structures were irreparably damaged in suspected arson fires in 2022.
Picking up where they left off last year, arsonists were at it again New Year’s night. Security video captured two figures dousing a Niles Street office building with an accelerant and lighting it.
At this rate Bakersfield might be more appropriately known as Plywood City.
It’s not known whether these were homeless individuals or arsonists with an agenda, but homelessness and its attendant problems – drug use and mental illness – seem likely to have been factors. Again.
Bakersfield’s homeless problem seems to go hand-in-hand with its vacant building arson problem.
That’s something for public safety and code enforcement officials to keep in mind as they debate how to put a stop to these fires. They likely won’t solve one without solving the other.