Southeast Roanoke residents call for change after years of vacant home fires

Cause of vacant home fire Sunday still not clear

ROANOKE, Va. – Residents in Southeast Roanoke are calling for change after years of issues with vacant properties in the area.

The renewed efforts come after a fire at an unoccupied home Sunday destroyed or damaged five homes on Bullitt Avenue.

It's not the first time this has happened in Southeast and people who live in the area said it's time for something to change before it happens again.

"Northwest is known for its shootings and we're known for our homeless problems and these fires that happen every year," said E. Duane Howard, who lives in Southeast.

A home on Stewart Avenue is still abandoned after a fire on Thanksgiving in 2015. Another burned-out home is left abandoned on Dent Avenue. There were at least six cases of arson in vacant properties last year alone and neighbors don’t want to see any more. 

"The feeling in the neighborhood is that a number of them are from homeless people being able to get into them, starting fires to keep warm," Howard said.

Abandoned homes are supposed to be boarded up, but 10 News saw that, at some homes, boards had been broken through.

"To me, it seems like the code inspectors wear blinders when they go through our neighborhood. They only address the problems that we report to them," Howard said.

That's why people living in Southeast want the city to do more.

"We’ve done everything that we legally can do," Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said.

Lea said property owners are required to board up the homes and the city is working to secure them as well.

"We have our code enforcement out and working hard to make sure that we deal with the issues that come out. It's not nothing that we're just looking beyond. It's a concern, of course, because their quality of life is important," Lea said.

Lea said the city will continue working to ensure properties and residents are safe, but Howard is asking for more.

"I believe that if the city doesn't start doing something soon, we're on the way to ghetto-hood," Howard said.

According to a city spokesperson, of the 155 structures listed as unsafe in Roanoke, 44 are in Southeast.

The cause of the fire on Bullitt Avenue remains under investigation.

About the Author:

Jessica anchors 10 News on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 and 11 p.m. You can also catch her reporting during the week.