BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — New data reveals a disturbing trend: a big increase in building fires in Bakersfield from 2020 to 2021. First responders say this data could help keep buildings safe. Meantime hundreds of buildings went up in smoke last year alone, leaving the Bakersfield Fire Dept. stretched thin.

“It takes a big toll on our guys,” said Brian Bowman, a Battalion Chief with the Bakersfield Fire Dept. “We may have guys that are here four, fix, six, seven, eight days in a row. That’s just the nature of the beast right now.”

The Bakersfield Fire Dept. fought more than 500 structure fires last year … jumping 10% from 2020’s total of 464.

“It’s resulting in a much busier emergency services environment for us,” said William Ballard, a Deputy Chief with the Bakersfield Fire Dept.

Data shows abandoned buildings aren’t just tough to look at, they can be dangerous. Nearly a quarter of last year’s structure fires tore through vacant buildings.

“A lot of times it’s purposely set, or perhaps unintentionally set by a squatter,” said Deputy Chief Ballard.

At times, the same buildings burn several times. That’s what happened to the old Amestoy’s Bar on River Boulevard … burning at least half a dozen times in the past few years.

“What that does is compromises any part of the structure,” said Deputy Chief Ballard. “It moves at an exponential rate because it no longer has those in check.”

16% of Bakersfield’s building fires last year were linked to transient people. Most happened in East Bakersfield.

Last year’s building blazes caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage, but the Bakersfield Fire Dept. says the new tracking methods could give firefighters the upper hand, or hose, against fires in the future. And while they’re equipped with new fire tracking systems, it bears repeating that firefighters for years have called on the public for help. If you see a vacant house or building being inhabited by transient people, report it so that potential trouble spot doesn’t turn into an inferno. They also advise property owners to secure your buildings and dumpsters, as a hedge against fire.