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Emergency Officials: Joplin House Fire Appears To Have Been Set - KOAM TV 7

Emergency Officials: Joplin House Fire Appears To Have Been Set By Homeless Trying To Keep Warm

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Joplin, MO -

Firefighters in Joplin say it appears an attempt to escape this cold weather led to a house fire yesterday evening.  Officials have wrapped up their investigation into what happened, and there are similarities to other fires.

Firefighters were dispatched to 727 Murphy Avenue shortly before five yesterday evening.

People do whatever they can to stay warm during dangerously cold temperatures.

"It's a touchy subject," says Captain Trevor Duncan with the Joplin Police Department.  "There are people out there who don't have a place to go and do need shelter."

"There were no utilities in the structure, so they had to use...whether it was wood, clothing...readily available things inside that house," says Chief James Fergerson with the Joplin Fire Department.

Whoever lit the fire may have only been thinking of survival.  But emergency officials say regardless of intent, they were trespassing.  Joplin's fire marshal says two years ago, fires in vacant houses caused by the homeless accounted for 20 percent of the total fires that year.

"In each of those cases, the homeless person who started that fire is putting their own life at risk," says Joplin Emergency Manager Keith Stammer.

...And the lives of emergency responders.

"I think it's important for us to educate the homeless and let them know, hey, these are the alternatives to utilizing a vacant structure," says Fergerson.

"About the time we think we've perhaps accomplished a little bit of that, the (homeless) population changes.  I think one of the things to remember here is the homeless are often times transient.  Joplin is well-known as a transient center," says Stammer.

Neighbors to vacant houses should be watchful for anything suspicious.  Next to the house that was burned earlier this week is another vacant house that, firefighters say, appears to also show signs of inside burning.

Stammer points out even though there are homeless shelters in the area, some homeless don't trust police or people wanting to help.  Joplin's Building Department is in charge of trying to contact the owner of a vacant building after it has been burned.

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