CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston fire officials say vagrants starting fires in abandoned homes is a big problem.
Investigators say a fire that destroyed a home at 645 East Bay Street Monday morning may have been the work of vagrants.
The house was 118 years old.
"Devastating, the house has been standing since I was a little boy, I'm 47 years old now. It's just, I don't have the words," said Kevin Brown, who's family owns the home.
Fire officials suspect a house fire on Saturday night on Hanover Street was started by vagrants who were trying to keep warm or cooking.
They say the house on East Bay Street also has a history of break-ins by squatters.
"Unfortunately we may have had vagrants in the building again today," Charleston Chief Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said at the scene of Monday's fire.
The city's livability department says there are 273 of them in Charleston with about 90 percent of them on the peninsula.
That concerns Stacey Barrington who lives a block away from this morning's fire.
"I have never seen a fire that big, that close to my house and it was raging when I woke up and it was raging when I woke up," Barrington said.
Barrington says there are a lot of abandoned homes in her neighborhood that could easily be broken into by vagrants.
"I have literally seen men crawl into little cracks to get into a vacant house and it's a bunch of different things, to get out of the rain, get out of the cold," Barrington said.
"Even though I know they need a place to keep warm and everything, you know the damage they can do if something goes wrong," Brown said.
Livability officials say under city law, owners of abandoned homes must board them up and also place no trespassing signs on them.
Violators may face a fine of up to $1,087.