NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A 5-alarm fire that displaced more than a dozen people Monday originated in a blighted home that has been a source of violations for years.
Some neighbors escaped just in time.
“As I’m walking to the window I heard crackling noises, and as I pulled the curtain back, sure enough the house next door is just burning in flames uncontrollably,” said fire victim Kamal Packer.
Others had to be rescued from a second-floor balcony as the fire ripped through Central City homes on Baronne Street.
“They had people on the balcony in the building on the right hand side, they had three people in front and another on the back. They got all those people out, no injuries, no reports of anyone in the building,” said New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell.
While investigators are still trying to figure out what cause the fire, McConnell says it started in a small vacant house where squatters were reportedly living. It quickly spread to neighboring homes, displacing more than a dozen people and damaging three residential properties.
Marguerite Roberts has lived in the neighborhood for four years and says the abandoned camel back has been a source of blight the entire time.
“I walk by here a lot coming home, and there’s a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of stuff that piles up on the porch,” said Roberts. “You can see it from the front of the street, there’s some sort of demolition from neglect going on, unfortunately, it’s a real shame.”
According to the city’s online database for blight, the property where the fire originated had been cited for a number of violations dating back to 2011. Most recently, there were 12 violations at the camel back that included sanitation and roof problems, overgrown weeds and issues with the structure of the property. The city says it was declared blighted in 2015. The fire was in City Council Member Jay Bank’s district. He says blight is a problem across New Orleans.
“We’ve got way too many blighted houses and when you combine that with the fact that we have an affordable housing crisis this is something that we have to come to a solution with. That house never should have been vacant with the need that we have for people getting the housing. We shouldn’t have any and I’m committed to trying to figure out what we got to do to get all of these blighted houses back into commerce,” said Banks.
As for the abandoned house where the fire started, the city says it is now deemed “an imminent danger of collapse.” And, code enforcement will move forward with it’s emergency demolition.
The city says once the abandoned property is demolished, code enforcement will post a lien against the property for the cost of those demo services. And, when you add up the blight fines, fees, and taxes, the owner of the property will owe the city around $45,000.