Leaders look at Ward 3 fires

Published 8:43pm Friday, June 14, 2013

While some of Selma’s most historic homes are located in Ward 3, the Old Town district, many of these homes have recently gone up in smoke. 

Ward 3 Selma City councilmember Greg Bjelke, held a meeting in the Selma City Council chambers Wednesday to address the issue of what, or who, is burning down Old Town and how can it be stopped.

Selma Mayor George Evans and Selma Fire Chief Michael Stokes joined in the conversation to offer solutions on how the city can prevent its history from going down in flames.

“The meeting twisted from fire prevention and abandoned homes to code enforcement,” Bjelke said. “Code enforcement has so much to do with it.”

Many of the homes that have burned down in recent years are abandoned, or their owners live outside of Dallas County, Bjelke said. And with several houses in disrepair and lack of code enforcement, he said, “the stage is set for fires.”

“If you have a vacant home and children with idle time on their hands or squatters — it just sets up the perfect scenario for a fire,” Bjelke said. “A lot of it is code enforcement issues, and police issues and trash issues too.”

During the meeting, Stokes reviewed dates of when house fires have occurred in Ward 3 for the past five years. After reviewing records, he found that about eight homes have burned in the past five years — about one every five months.

The most recent fire, which occurred in the 600 block of Church Street, claimed the John T. Morgan House — one of Selma’s most historic homes that originally resided in Old Cahawba.

“The Historic Preservation Society has suggested that they use their money to pay retired police officers to patrol these homes,” Bjelke said. “I thought that was a really good idea.”

Both Evans and Stokes agreed that the reoccurring fires in Ward 3 have become a problem, and something needs to be done. And to keep the momentum going on the issue, Bjelke said he plans to keep it at the forefront of city council meetings.

“I want to keep the momentum going on this code enforcement and abandoned house issue,” Bjelke said. “It just looks bad and I hate it. It’s bad for our town, it’s bad for tourism, it’s bad for anyone moving here who wants to create an industry — it just looks bad.”

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