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One week after WIS investigation, another vacant building in Columbia burns

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Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 7:36 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 8:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A WIS investigation in November raised neighbor concerns of vacant buildings creating opportunities for blight, crime and fires.

Related Story | Neighbors calling for change as Columbia grappled with hundreds of neglected building cases over the summer

Six days after it aired, a vacant duplex burned in Columbia.

The Columbia Richland County Fire Department reported an empty duplex on the 500 block of Saluda Avenue caught fire the morning of Nov. 24. It’s near the heart of the Five Points neighborhood.

The department ruled the fire was caused by someone who had entered the building and set the fire to stay warm.

It was the realization of a fear expressed by “Homeless No More” CEO Lila Anna Sauls in her interview with WIS about vacant buildings in late October.

“When you look in the windows and you can see where people are squatting or where there have been fires to keep warm. We’re coming up on cooler weather, so during the summer you’re not as concerned about a building burning down, but now we will be,” she said.

A firefighter received a minor injury putting out the fire and department spokesperson Mike Desumma said the individual is fine now.

Neighbor Michael Dawson said he saw the fire during his morning run.

“Particularly in the morning, you’ll see folks who are waking up and coming out of a variety of places, but you’ve got Transitions, you’ve got city of Columbia’s got the winter shelter they crack off, there are options, some people just don’t want those options. They want the independence of living on their own and occasionally they decided I’ve got to have some heat,” he said.

Other neighbors declined formal interviews but told WIS they do see people in and around the duplex regularly.

“Well starting a fire inside a building to stay warm will work for a little while. It’s not the classic solution if you want to start a fire to stay warm, do it outside. Sadly, somebody didn’t use the best logic when they lit that thing off and boom probably got away from them,” Dawson said.

The City of Columbia bought the duplex in 2016 and it’s unclear how long it’s been vacant. Columbia Police spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said code enforcement did put up no trespassing signs and the building is now boarded.

Code Enforcement’s previous case work on the property, if any, is unclear.

The City of Columbia does operate a warming shelter in coordination with several non-profits.

If the weather dips below 40 degrees, individuals in need can go to Comet Central at 1745 Sumter Street to be transported between 5:45 and 7 p.m..

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