GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The morning commute along Guilford College Road in Greensboro came to a standstill as an abandoned house caught fire Thursday morning.

The fire, which authorities believe was ignited by someone squatting in the home and an unattended candle, shows the broader issue of vacant properties serving as potential safety hazards.

The property on 823 Guilford College Rd. had become a eyesore in the community. It was marked by trash, broken glass and overgrown grass. Fire officials who responded to the scene found evidence of squatters within the house, including needles, drug paraphernalia and signs of people living inside.  

Assistant Chief of the Greensboro Fire Department Dwayne Church highlighted the broader issue of vacant homes catching fire and the dangers associated with them.

“We know that this is a problem in Greensboro and really a problem across the nation,” Church said.

The property is one of three vacant, boarded-up homes within the 800 block.

“What happens is you don’t have someone living there. You don’t have someone keeping up with code compliance,” Church said.

City regulations dictate that routine code compliance inspections cannot be carried out, and all inspections must be complaint-driven. Suprisingly, the city hadn’t received any complaints about this property since March 2014, meaning that no inspectors had visited the site for over nine years.

Church emphasized the importance of community involvement.

“There is no way for us to know every single vacant structure in our territory and area. Inform the city about that, and they will usually send out code compliance to make sure it is up to code,” he said.

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As colder weather sets in, calls related to incidents like this are expected to increase. The risk of people seeking shelter in vacant buildings becomes more prominent, and fire hazards like unattended candles pose a significant threat.

“Anytime there’s a vacant structure, there’s a possibility that someone has been inside either seeking warmth, shelter from the elements or simply a private place,” Church said. “It’s challenging to prevent individuals from trying to keep warm, often resorting to unsafe methods, including open candles and even open fires.”

For concerned citizens who wish to report vacant properties or code violations, the city has provided two options: they can call the City at 336-373-CITY or submit their reports online through the city’s Code Compliance webpage.