BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Fire investigators now say a three-alarm fire at an abandoned church in North Buffalo this weekend was no accident.
We were live from the scene on Saturday as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze at the empty church. At the time, neighbors told News 4 the former church was an eyesore and a hazard to the neighborhood.
So we talked to city officials and find out what they're doing about it.
The church has been empty for six years now, but it is still owned by the Korean United Methodist Church. City officials say they've been trying for some time now to get those owners to take care of the property.
The church on the corner of Tacoma and Colvin Avenues is scarred with graffiti - and now a hole in the roof and freshly boarded up windows.
On Saturday, while firefighters worked on the dangerous arson fire, neighbors were telling News 4 they're sick of the building being a blight on the area.
"It's an eyesore. We don't want graffiti around here. It's still a good viable neighborhood," neighbor Matthew Boudo said.
But the city officials say they've been trying.
"After a long history of complaints from neighbors regarding graffiti, high grass, we've taken steps by issuing tickets contacting the owners, trying to get them to gain compliance that way. When that didn't work out, we had to take court action against the owners," said Lou Petrucci, Assist. Director, Dept. of Permit and Inspection Services.
If the owners, the Korean United Methodist Church, are guilty in housing court they could face 15 days in jail and or a $1,500 fine.
But the city's goal is simply to get them to take care of the property, which is even more urgent after the weekend's fire.
"Any abandoned building poses a threat and harm to not just the firefighters who have to go in and put the fires out but to the residents who live in proximity to the building. So we're very concerned about that," said Garnell Whitfield, Buffalo Fire Commissioner.
That concern rises when the vandalism the building has suffered escalates to arson.
The fire started on the first floor toward the rear of the church when someone apparently started some garbage on fire. City inspectors say despite the $250,000 damage, the building will not need to be torn down. But for the eyesore to improve the owners will have to start cooperating.
"We can't just seize the building. We have to go through due process which is the court system," said Petrucci.
Representatives from the Korean United Methodist Church say they say they are working with the city to find a solution to the issues raised. They used for building for 10-plus years before moving to a different location. And for the last six years, the pastor says the church has been trying to sell the building.
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