Another vacant house fire in Tacoma, but with hopes of a path forward

TACOMA, Wash. --  Fire crews across the Puget Sound have seen something like it too many times to count.

A vacant home near the intersection of South 19th Street and South Yakima Avenue caught fire early Wednesday morning. The fire grew, destroying the house and causing more than $150,000 in damages.

Luckily, no one was hurt.

The cause of the fire was either a propane heater or improperly discarded smoking material from transients living there.

Fire crews told Q13 News they see it all the time: long-neglected, derelict homes becoming a place to stay for transients. With the electricity turned off, they start illegal burns or use portable heaters to stay warm.

Then fires happen.

But Tacoma is trying to change that.

The city is months into a pilot program aimed at reducing the number of derelict and vacant buildings. Started in June, the project is underway in Tacoma's south end, where vacant and abandoned homes are a bigger problem than other areas, said Allyson Griffith, the manager for the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Team.

The program is aimed at reducing "compliance issues," Griffith said. Fixing or eliminating derelict homes unfit for living or nuisance properties.

The city is approaching the fix from a few different angles. First, working with the owners of neglected homes to manage the issue. Second, giving the owners funds or help if they're not able to bring the home up to code. Like helping elderly or disabled care for homes by cutting shrubs and repairing windows.

Finally, letting neighbors know what they can do with boarded up buildings.

"We've also been doing education with folks out in the neighborhoods to talk about when they have a boarded up building on their block," Griffith said. "What that means and how they can get it addressed."

The city works with owners to rehab and reoccupy buildings, crucial in an area that's seen a housing crunch. The city has torn down a number of extreme problem properties, Griffith said.

Wednesday night's fire doesn't fall into the Tacoma district where the pilot program is underway. But a full report on the program is due in January. It may soon be expanded and made available to all districts.

That could mean less vacant homes in Tacoma. And maybe fewer fires, too.