On Sunday, five squatters who pried open a window of an abandoned house in east-central Fresno, allegedly to do drugs, died when a fire broke out; a sixth was injured, the Fresno Bee reports.
The incident prompted protests against the house’s owner, Brian Rossene, of Englewood, Colorado, but Fresno officials asserted that they had done all they could to force Rossene to fix the house and others he owns that have been declared blighted.
Rossene has been fined repeatedly by the city since 1996, but has not paid any of the fines. The city has levied fines against the owner since 1996, but has collected none of the money. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin told the Bee, “It is an absolute tragedy. It is something that was totally avoidable had the property owner complied with the city’s vacant building ordinance.”
The five dead at the 1444 Archie Avenue address were identified as Patricia Zambrano, 34, William Morales, 56, Irene Hinojos, 36; Monique Amaral, 28; and Anthony Zavala, 37. Firefighters found the victims, including the sixth injured person, in one of the bedrooms, according to Yahoo news. Fresno fire spokesman Pete Martinez said that it appeared that the victims died because of smoke inhalation but no cause of death had been finalized as yet, according to ABC News.
Asked whether the Archie incident, in addition to an incident at the Summerset Village Apartments, where residents lacked heat and hot water for roughly a month, meant the city should do more, Swearengin said the city had passed a law last May to find all boarded-up houses and fine the owners.
Jose Lara, who lives next door to the burned Archie house, told the Bee that “homeless people and prostitutes” had repeatedly ripped off plywood from one side of the house to re-enter it.