Neighbors concerned about safety of abandoned buildings

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December 11, 2006

There's still no official cause for a fire that erupted last night at an abandoned chemical plant.

The blaze started shortly before 10 o'clock off Glass Factory Avenue, not very far away from Old Savannah Road and MLK Boulevard.

It's still early in the investigation, but we understand homeless people living in the building may have started the fire.

News 12's Lynnsey Gardner spoke to neighbors who want to know what is being done to secure these abandoned sites.

The building destroyed in last night's blaze had been vacant for more than five years and had a history of being vandalized before it burned to the ground.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office says this is a perfect example of why they step up patrols during the winter months.

"I was kind of asleep when it all happened, and I woke up and looked out the window and seen flames in the air," Glass Factory Ave. resident Nick Blocker told News 12. The raging fire was right outside his window.

Nick, his wife and their four children got out as fast as they could.

"We've been here so long and know what that used to be and know it's contaminated," Nick said.

He had a right to be concerned. The building was once a chemical plant. Its owner, Blackman Uhler, left the property more than five years ago...and Nick says that's the problem.

"We've been here 29 years and seen the neighborhood go to nothing," he said. "You see buggy pushers every day all day. They go get what they get and go back two to three times a day."

Despite the signs warning people to stay out and not trespass, neighbors say many people still come to steal scrap metal, vandalize the property, and seek shelter.

It's a problem Richmond County Deputy Charlene Durrence sees almost every day.

"There is a lot of abandoned buildings, and we do have problems with homeless people," she told News 12.

Deputy Durrence says checking buildings like these is a priority for the sheriff's office.

"When we're not on a call, we check the buildings and abandoned buildings and businesses," she said. "A lot of these abandoned buildings are old wood, and if they start, it spreads real fast...and that's the reason we step up patrol more."

And Nick Blocker, who's back at home now, says he hopes the extra patrol will help prevent another night like this.

"It's a problem," he said. "Hopefully after this they'll put a lock on the gate to keep them out of there."

Deputy Durrence said the sheriff's office works to get the homeless people to a shelter like the Salvation Army, but if they are trespassing on or vandalizing the property, the owner can press charges.

Every deputy on a shift is assigned to a certain area, and each area has its own list of homes, businesses, and buildings that need to be checked. If a deputy sees something suspicious, they can log it for the next deputy coming on shift to look out for it.