They needed an ax and a chainsaw to have a chance of getting him out alive. Time was running out.
It was dark, but the area was lit by flames that engulfed the supposedly-vacant house. A hand was reaching out from under the building’s foundation, from a vent too small for a body to move through.
In the pouring rain, firefighters rushed to the residential fire on East Grant Avenue, Fresno, California on Oct. 4. Police directed them to where the man could be heard.
“He’s right here!” a policeman yells, pointing at the side of the house.
Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis praised the rescuers’ coordinated efforts on the night.
“You don’t typically expect to find someone in the subfloor of a structure that has no intention of a basement. To get to that person was really a very intense few moments,” Donis told KFSN, an ABC affiliate.
“It was a very fortunate outcome, but a very intense moment. I think the intensity is very well depicted in that helmet cam footage.”
Rescuers moved the man to Community Regional Medical Center. He was later discharged.
Vacant Structure Fires Increase
Donis said the dramatic incident draws attention to the problem of an increasing number of fires in vacant buildings in Fresno, compounding the workload of the department. It is already one of the busiest fire departments in the nation, having stamped out more than 700 structure fires so far in 2018, according to KFSN.
The number of vacant structure fires have more than doubled this year, Donis said, with half of such fires involving homeless and transients.
“It’s affecting our fire response and the firefighters capacity with the volume of fire activity that’s going on in our community on a daily basis in our community,” Donis told KFSN.
Donis says half of all of Fresno’s fires are under investigation for arson, yourcentralvalley reported. She says the motivation for starting a fire can vary, but keeping warm is a major reason.
As the winter months approach, there may be an upward trend in the number of vacant home fires.
The public can alert authorities if they see homeless people squatting in vacant homes.
“We are encouraging our residents, if they see something, say something,” Donis said, Firehouse reported.
The responsibility falls on the property owner to make sure a vacant building is properly boarded up or fenced.
The fire department is coordinating with Fresno’s city leaders and police to have vacant buildings that have not been taken care of to be boarded up in an attempt to bring down the number of vacant structure fires.