BALTIMORE (WJZ) – Fires are not the only danger stemming from Baltimore’s vacant buildings.

In theory, vacant homes should be boarded and secured to keep people out—but that’s not always the case.

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Some of the vacant houses have gaping holes where they once had a front door, which creates a breeding ground for crime and other dangers. Baltimore has about 15,000 vacant houses.

“You take the [vacants] away, you take the crime value down, basically,” East Baltimore resident Kenny Bradford said.

The vacant house in the 200 block of South Stricker Street where three firefighters—Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler, and Kenny Lacayo—were fatally injured on Monday had been vacant since 2010.

The fire that killed the firefighters was just one in a long line of fires at vacant buildings. But fires aren’t the only problem.

“Nobody knows someone is there until they enter the house or something,” Bentley said.

Around the corner from City Fire Station 8, the entire 800 block of North Gilmor Street is slated for demolition.

Still, many of the houses are unsecured. Plywood boards that once concealed gaping holes have been pried off them. They are exposed to the elements and to available for entry to anyone passing by.

“You can easily just walk inside of here and just be upstairs chilling or something,” Bentley said.

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In 2020, police pulled a body from a vacant house on Argyle Avenue in West Baltimore. Although the Baltimore Police Department doesn’t keep a tally of every body that is pulled out of a vacant house, they do track the number tied to the number of murder victims.

Going back over the past five-plus years, there have been 22 homicides in or on vacant properties.

The city has long pointed to the sheer presence of vacant buildings as a catalyst for crime.

“If you look at a map of where the murders are, the most violent crime is in the areas of most vacants,” City Councilwoman Odette Ramos said.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy noted that the vacant buildings are a visual blight within the city’s communities and have an impact on the health and well-being of its residents.

“Last summer, they had guys going around setting them on purpose,” Baltimore resident Tiffany Woods said.

In 2019, arson investigators determined that dozens of fires had been intentionally set inside Baltimore’s vacant buildings. The police arrested two men in connection with them. Court records show that one of them was convicted for his role in the string of arsons.

Years later and fires inside vacant buildings remain an issue—especially in West Baltimore.

“Would we like the city to knock down every vacant house in the city so this never happens again? Absolutely,” Rich Langford, the president of Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 784 said. “Until then, we’ll continue to do our jobs protecting the citizens of Baltimore.”

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Baltimore isn’t the only city struggling with vacant buildings. Detroit has a demolition department dedicated to the removal of them. It has demolished 20,000 buildings within the past several years.

Paul Gessler