Fires in Cedar Rapids’ 2008 Flood Zone a Persistent Problem

By Dave Franzman, KCRG-TV9

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Cedar Rapids firefighters spent hours battling a blaze at a vacant home late Saturday night. And fires breaking out in unoccupied homes in the 2008 flood zones is a problem that just won’t quit

The fire at 1202 M Street S.W. was actually the second one at this particular property. It also caught fire in December of 2012. The home has remained unoccupied and unrepaired since the flood nearly six years ago.

Greg Buelow said the fire was so intense it damaged several neighboring homes. And it’s the 43rd first at vacant property in the flood zones since the flood of 2008.

While firefighters continue to track the number of vacant home fires in the flood zone finding out how many vacant and unrepaired homes remain is a more complicated question.

Francis Becker said the fire was so hot it melted the siding on his home across the street. The state of the vacant home that caught fire once before was on the minds of neighbors.

“The neighbors across the street look out their front door every morning and see that house. I tell you it’s just one of those things,” Becker said.

Firefighters say some flood-damaged, abandoned homes that caught fire over the years were possibly the target of vandals or arsonists. Others may have housed squatters who set the fires accidentally.

Kevin Ciabatti, director of Cedar Rapids Building Services, said the city has demolished 1,250 properties after a series of buyouts of flood-damaged property. Another 22 remain in the process of coming down. Ciabatti said there’s a variety of reasons why some homes remain in disrepair but not demolished.

“Some owners have difficulty with title and some of their holdings. The other thing is some owners didn’t qualify for various reasons. Some others wanted to rehab and since failed at that process and now it’s too late to go back into the buyout, ”Ciabatti said.

Ciabatti said 210 properties are in some stage of nuisance proceedings with the city. Last month, at least 97 were in some stage of court hearings. But that’s a citywide figure. Ciabatti said there’s no way to separate out the vacant and unrepaired homes in the flood zone yet. The city is starting to compile a Vacant Building Registry which might provide some of those answers. But that registry is not finished yet.

Linda Seger, a member of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, estimates there are 35-40 flood-damaged vacant homes in the Time Check neighborhood of northwest Cedar Rapids. Seger said the neighborhood group is interested in seeing the city tackle more vacant homes because it’s hurting the value of owners who have recovered since the flood.

“The value of their homes is not what it could be and it’s also a nuisance and an eyesore in the neighborhood,” Seger said.

Ciabatti added that each case takes time so there’s no quick solution to the backlog of vacant, unrepaired nuisance properties.

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