Cedar Rapids officials report 31 fires in abandoned structures - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cedar Rapids officials report 31 fires in abandoned structures in flood zone since 2008


Cedar Rapids crews are investigating another suspicious fire in the flood zone. The city has seen 31 such fires at abandoned structures since 2008.

Crews were on scene at condemned lumber yard on Cedar Rapids' southwest side Wednesday night, putting out a fire in a building where utilities had been shut off a long time ago.

"There must be some human element involved," said Greg Buelow with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. "There appears to be some evidence inside that someone obviously was in there."

In April crews believed someone intentionally set a fire overnight at a flood-damaged residence off Ellis Boulevard. The fire burned so hot that it melted the siding of three homes nearby, including that of a woman who had rebuilt after the flood and moved back into the neighborhood. The recent activity has some neighbors concerned.

"There could have been little kids in there or somebody could have gotten really hurt.  Luckily nobody was in there," said Alex McElhinney, who lives in the neighborhood.

City leaders say the activity isn't necessarily unusual for communities recovering from a major disaster.

"We were told by other jurisdictions that had major disasters in particular floods, Grand Forks, North Dakota, New Orleans, Louisiana, be prepared for a rash of fires in your flood zone," Buelow said.

With the help of FEMA funds, the city had increased patrol of the area immediately following the flood.

That money has run out. Now the city is asking neighbors to be extra vigilant for suspicious activity.

"We want people to be prosecuted for that if they're intentionally setting fires because they're not only endangering themselves, they're endangering neighbors, they're endangering the lives of the first responders that have to go put out the fire," Buelow said.

Anyone with any information regarding the causes of any of the flood zone fires is asked to call the state's anonymous arson hotline. The number is 1-800-532-1459.

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