Juveniles were seen running from a boarded-up Walnut Avenue house that caught fire on Wednesday evening, prompting suspicions of arson.
The fire broke out in the 1800 block of Walnut Avenue west of Highway 99 at 4:42 p.m. The fire was attacked from the outside since firefighters did not want to go inside the structure since it was known that pieces of flooring had been removed by squatters who also left hypodermic syringes inside the house. Once the fire burned up through the attic, streams of water were directed down into the structure.
The fire caused an estimated $125,000 damage, said Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Nicholes.
The house was in the process of being remodeled but never finished. Nicholes said it's been a public nuisance for many years, particularly since the owner died in 2009. Since that time the city's code enforcement team has visited the property for unsafe conditions caused by those breaking into it for makeshift shelter. Extensive vandalism to the interior wallboard was caused when thieves stripped piping and wiring from the walls. Persons had also set small warming fires inside the house.
"We continuously have boarded it up," said Nicholes.
Calls to have the ex-wife and new owner clean up the property have gone unanswered and resulted in the clean-up done by the city and liens placed against the property.
Nicholes is recommending that the owner fix up the house or have the city Building Department condemn the property so that it can be demolished.
If the owner doesn't cooperate with demolition then the city will likely be forced to spend months to legally declare it a hazard and remove it - all with a new lien filed against the future sale of the property.
Anyone with information on the fire or those who set it on fire is asked to call Ceres Police at 538-5713.
Wednesday's fire was the first of a string of local suspected arson cases involving vacant homes. Before 8 a.m. on Friday Ceres firefighters battled a fire in a vacant home on Ustick Road near Don Pedro Road. When firefighters arrived flames were erupting through the roof of the fenced off property.
Ceres Fire Department also helped battle a 7:07 p.m. Thursday fire that broke out at an abandoned house on Portland Avenue. The house - which was the scene of a previous fire - was allowed to burn out of fear for firefighter safety.