Squatters tied to spate of structure fires in El Cajon


Heartland firefighters stand outside an abandoned home that’s burned twice this week.

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EL CAJON, Calif. — Fire officials believe a spate of recent structure fires in El Cajon — some at the old police headquarters on Fletcher Parkway, the others at a home on 1st Street — is the result of squatters taking up residence in the abandoned buildings.

Saturday morning, Heartland Fire-Rescue responded to a blaze at a house on the 300 block of 1st Street, just two days after extinguishing another small fire at the home.

Battalion Chief Joe Hudelson said crews were able to make quick work of the blaze from outside the structure, and that it appeared to be from a “cooking or a warming fire.” Hudelson added it was “probably safe to assume” — though he couldn’t confirm — that it was the result of homeless people taking shelter in the building.

Dawn, a resident from a neighboring building, said there have been issues with homelessness and drug activity at the house for a “few years,” starting when a couple was evicted from the house.

Dawn said police activity at the building is common, adding that it’s “very scary” to have her home so close to the action. She said the owner of the house is working on permits to tear the structure down and build apartments.

About two miles away, the old El Cajon Police Department headquarters on Fletcher Parkway also burned for a second time this week.

SkyFOX was over the abandoned building as it burned on Thursday, and the chopper picked up images of officers speaking with a group of what appeared to be transients.


On Saturday, Heartland Fire officials said another fire broke out in the building around 10 a.m.

El Cajon police officers were seen handcuffing, patting down and taking some apparently homeless individuals away in squad cars as firefighters extinguished the flames and made their way through the smoky building.

Officials said no one was hurt in either Saturday morning fire.

Firefighters make their way through the smoky, cluttered former police HQ in El Cajon.

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