Drug users blamed after abandoned house goes up in smoke in troubled neighborhood

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INDIANAPOLIS — It was four years ago that three IFD firefighters were injured battling a house blaze on Warman Avenue just south of West Washington Street.

It was two years ago when I covered a murder at a house at 216 South Warman that the neighbors told me was drug-related.

It was this past Sunday morning when the house next door at 224 Warman went up in flames minutes after the lady across the street told me she heard a loud noise in the back of the abandoned duplex.

“The neighborhood drug addicts were all hanging out in it and we seen them all over in there and they were all hanging out and smoking meth,” said Michelle Wilhelm. “Those are the people who burned it down because those are the same people who hung out in the other places that burned down in the neighborhood.”

Michelle had a fresh cut on her chin from a fight she had minutes earlier with one of the neighbors she blames for the flames.

The cause of Sunday morning’s fire has not yet been determined, though its impact has as Naomi Rodriguez said she lost everything she owned when the house next door was gutted by the blaze.

“I wasn’t expecting this. My neighbor next door came to knock on my door and let me out,” she said. “The neighbor from the house told me they heard a strange sound and a few minutes later they felt the fire.

“My things are thoroughly damaged. Everything is damaged in my house.”

Since Jan. 1, IFD has responded to 81 vacant building fires in 59 structures that were unsecured across the city.

“If it’s a vacant structure and it’s been vacant for a while, there could be obstructions in there, either structural issues or just various debris inside the structure,” said IFD Fire Marshal Michael Beard. “One thing we have trouble with vacant structures is, you don’t know if there’s anyone inside. Firemen are putting themselves on the line trying to go into a vacant structure thinking that there may or may not be people in there.”

Beard said when the weather turns cold, persons without shelter will enter abandoned buildings and do what they must to stay warm.

“There are various ways to keep warm and some of them do involve fire burning in buckets or pails, and things of that nature, and it results in it getting away from them and resulting in fires in the residences.”

Sgt. Brad Bentley has patrolled IMPD’s Southwest District since 2013 and is well acquainted with abandoned buildings on his beat.

“The homes… they’ll be boarded up one day, the next day the boards are taken off, it’s a continual battle,” he said. “Most of the time officers will develop a pretty good rapport with the citizens out here and let them know, ‘Hey, the back doors have been removed.’ We’ll show up to check the premises. We’ll go in to check the buildings and make sure anybody’s in there, if they are, we’ll take action at that point.”

If there’s an abandoned building in your neighborhood — and someone is in it who shouldn’t be — call the Mayor’s Action Center at (317) 327-4622 to get it boarded up.

“I’ve called the police several times in the past,” said Wilhelm. “A lot of us know who’s doing it. The rumors are all the same and they all talk about each other and they all blame each other and you can just tell. It don’t take much of a rocket scientist to know.”

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