Some serious deja vu is playing out on Dalbergia Street in Barrio Logan, and not the good kind. The kind that endangers human lives, private property, and wastes public resources.
The sun was still down Wednesday morning when 63 San Diego firefighters worked to snuff out a scorching inferno inside an abandoned building -- a building they knew pretty well.
Deputy Fire Chief Kelly Zombro told NBC 7 that his crews have fought fires at the same address at least two other times.
And NBC 7 Investigates found the number is even higher than that.
In fact, a San Diego Fire spokeswoman confirmed firefighters have extinguished fires at 3500 Dalbergia Street six times over the last 18 months – and as recently as this past April.
“It takes a big chunk of resources out of the city that could be available for other responses,” said San Diego Deputy Fire Chief Kelly Zombro, standing feet away from the still-burning building.
Zombro explained that due to a collapsed roof, his firefighters would have to attack the fire slowly from the outside.
“It’s not safe,” said Zombro. “Each time we come back, it’s just that much more risk to our people.”
In addition to the risk for firefighters, the fires have also caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages in resources. One of the fires alone cost an estimated $1.2 million in damages, according to San Diego Fire Department records.
Just hours after Zombro’s interview on June 17, our cameras captured contractors boarding up the blown-out windows in the afternoon – a pretty feeble attempt at preventing homeless from entering the building, according to local business owners. Gates on the side remain open, and a fence put up hastily in the front of the building is loose enough to slide under.
Nearby workers say the building is a popular refuge for homeless people seeking shelter. Several told NBC 7 Investigates they’ve seen homeless people starting small fires to keep warm – and suspect this is how fires keep starting, especially since gas and electrical lines have been cut off.
Many of those workers of neighboring businesses say they want the building demolished, and expressed frustration that that hasn’t happened yet.
“We took a structural engineer to the location and determined that it either needs to be repaired or demolished,” says the deputy director for the city of San Diego’s Code Enforcement Division, Leslie Sennett.
Sennett said the city is still preparing a formal notice to the owner after it performed an inspection following the April fire. That notice will then get sent to the City Attorney for review.
In the meantime, the building still stands and apparently, still gets set on fire.
Homeless advocate Michael McConnell says he wasn’t surprised when he heard about the Barrio Logan fire. He says people on the street tell him more people have been squatting in an effort to get away from police officers, which they say have stepped up enforcement on homeless people sleeping on the street.
While the fires are dangerous for everyone, McConnell says the real issue is homelessness.
“That’s why we have so many people on the street,” says McConnell. “Because we’re not really willing to take responsibility for what caused people to become homeless in the first place, and address that so people can get an address again.”
He says demolishing the building will just move the problem to another building.
“If you keep funding band-aids you’re going to keep seeing this crisis on our streets,” says McConnell. “And that’s what our city has done: kept funding band-aids over and over and over again.”
Instead, he says the city should invest in workforce reentry resources and permanent supportive housing.
NBC 7 Investigates reached out to the media team at Aramark, which owns the nuisance property. They have yet to return our request for comment.