Desert Hot Springs, Calif. -
When a vacant home on Acoma Street in Desert Hot Springs burned the morning of July 30th, neighbors said trespassers had been finding their way inside the boarded up building for years.
Fire fighters arrived on the scene to find the body of 28 year old Veronica Reyes inside the abandoned building, an apparent victim of the structure fire.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is raising questions about what can be done in neighborhoods dotted with forgotten homes.
There are a handful of other boarded up buildings near the small, empty home that burned. Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks says for everyone's safety, the city needs neighbors' help keeping people out.
"Now that we know that there was a person that died in one of these closed up homes," Parks said, "We want to ask for the public's help that if they live near an abandoned or a boarded up home and they see someone going into that home, please report it."
Jumil Barnes has reported vagrants breaking into two boarded up homes in her area of Acoma Street over the last five years. She says activity around the abandoned home on the corner of Acoma near Palm Drive has lessened, but she still sees people trying to rip the boards off and getting into the back yard.
She'd like to see the building demolished.
"Probably get ripped out or re-done or something," Barnes said. "So that way we're not worried about people coming in, causing more things that can burn stuff down."
Barnes says another boarded-up home across the street is not abandoned, but in the slow process of being fixed up by out of town owners. She says a squatter once ripped off the swamp cooler to get inside through the roof.
Parks says there are not a lot of boarded-up homes in Desert Hot Springs, but those that are, need to be kept an eye on.
"The one thing that we want to be aware of," Parks said, "is anytime someone sees someone going into one of these boarded up homes, that we are made aware of it so that we can follow up on it."
Parks encourages people to call the DHS police department to report trespassers and break-ins to abandoned homes.
She says city code enforcement stays on top of bank-owned homes to make sure they remain compliant until they change ownership.