Vacant house fires in Seneca-Babcock neighborhood prompt search for arsonist


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It didn’t take long Thursday morning for Buffalo Fire investigators to conclude that two fires within a block of the Seneca-Babcock intersection were both set intentionally.

At about 3 a.m. Thursday, the alarm came in at 130 Imson Street near Seneca Street. That was just a few hours after firefighters doused a blaze right down the street at 61 Imson. That house was featured last October in a story by News 4’s Al Vaughters as one of the houses that was considered to be “on the fence” of whether it should be demolished or refurbished.

It’s had a new roof put on since then, according to Lou Petrucci, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Inspections and Permits.

“In 2017, someone came along, said they wanted to rehab it and we wanted to give them a chance. They secured permits to put a new roof and the electrical service and a bunch of other repairs as well, and then, unfortunately, the fire happened.”

The person who owned the home at 130 Imson was fined $1,500 last year in Buffalo Housing Court, but then sold it to a new owner, according to Petrucci.

“We gave them the opportunity to save it, hopefully one would be successful. My inspectors though, that went out there, said it looks like it might be a candidate for demolition as it stands right now.”

Mayor Byron Brown says, over the past decade, the City has demolished 7,000 vacant homes. “Now, I would say there are less than a hundred structures remaining that have to be demolished in the City of Buffalo and those are public and private structures.”

But the overnight fires in what vacant houses remain hit too close to home for some, like Racheal Girdlestone, a resident of the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood.

“I hope they can catch the person who’s setting these houses on fire because it’s scary,” Girdlestone said. “I mean we love it here, this is a big community, it’s scary for everybody here because you don’t know whose house is gonna be next.”

The city inspector, Petrucci concedes it’s often a difficult balance to achieve.

“You always want to balance that opportunity to save a property, keep it on the tax rolls, to provide hopefully quality housing for residents, versus the public safety aspect.”

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