Burned-out house poses danger

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, August 24, 2013

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On July 8, a fire ravaged a more than 110-year-old historic, two-story home in the 500 block of West Walnut Street – just a block from the courthouse in Decatur.

The fire caused extensive damage to the home, which had served as a multi-family apartment, leaving it gutted and barely standing. But more than a month-and-a-half later, the ruined remains of the house are still standing.

FALLING DOWN – After sustaining major structural damage during a raging fire in early July, neighbors and city employees have safety concerns about the crumbling remains of a two-story home in downtown Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

According to the deputy fire chief and code enforcement officer, the building poses a real danger.

“That building is unstable,” Deputy Fire Chief Deroy Bennett said. “The front of it is leaning toward the street. Over the past few weeks it’s continued to lean a little more and more. My concern is that anyone walking, or even driving past, is in danger. That’s why we’ve kept it marked off with tape.”

Code enforcement officer Jackie Miller has sent two letters requesting the property owner voluntarily demolish what remains of the unstable home.

“The structure gives the appearance it could fall,” Miller said. “The front columns are leaning out toward the road. It could collapse and hit a passerby. And kids are also curious. I’m afraid of what could happen.”

If the property owner does not begin moving toward the demolition process by Monday, Aug. 26, they could face fines totaling up to $200 per day according to Planning and Zoning Director Dedra Ragland.

“I know some neighbors might not think we are moving forward fast enough, but we have to give the property owner due process,” Ragland said.

If the owner still refuses to move forward with demolition, the city could go through the court and obtain a warrant to demolish the house themselves. They could then put a lien on the property to recuperate their expenses when it sells.

“But it’s a time-consuming process,” Miller said. “As the city’s code enforcement officer, I always strive to achieve voluntary compliance … We always try to be as compassionate as we can after someone suffers a fire loss.”

But if no action is taken by the property owner, the city will likely be forced to take legal measures.

“This is a safety concern,” Miller said. “We have to be concerned over the life, safety and health of everyone else in the community.”

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