Nine Fires: A Neighbor's Story

C.C. de Vere

C.C. de Vere

· 6 min read
The Hollenbeck house on fire against the night sky, taken by Mr. Smurfy from a window in his own home.

"Mr. Smurfy" (real name withheld at his request) is a Boyle Heights local living in and fixing up his family's longtime home, which happens to be very close to the destroyed Hollenbeck house. The above picture was taken recently by Mr. Smurfy during one of the fires.

It's still not clear what happened to the house's longtime owner; he may or may not still be alive and may or may not have returned to his native Japan. If anyone knows, please reach out and I'll try to get that information to the right people.

This is Mr. Smurfy's story of living near the Hollenbeck house after its abandonment, and of the city refusing to lift a finger (except LAFD). All bolding is mine.

It's a painful experience. was March when we had the first fire. I know that the owner had disappeared late last year. No one knew where he was. We had that wet winter and in the spring, the weeds started growing. Homeless [people] began scouting the property out, and one woman began living on the porch. Within a few weeks several of them were living in the house.
The first fire happened and I learned that it was started by a guy from a local gang named Joker. There was a fight amongst the homeless and they burned the's been an odyssey of pain for all of us.
There is extensive smoke, soot, and fire damage to the surrounding properties. Before the last major fire I had homeless people looking in our backyard and taking pictures. I had to walk around armed and I'm a pretty big guy, but I take my security seriously.
On the 20th [of September], there were two fires on my roof and my back awnings. My swimming pool is completely unusable because the ash and soot made it toxic. I'm in the process of filing a claim to have it re-plastered instead of acid washed.
I think the larger concern is the damage to our health. To be exposed to that level of smoke and soot is very toxic.
There was a homeless guy...scaling a telephone post trying to get the copper wire. I called 911 and the police department. They never came. It's constant - they don't respond. I think they're overwhelmed, and when they hear the word "homeless", they don't want to get involved.
As far as Kevin de Léon and Mayor Bass, they were completely useless. There was an email sent out by [LAFD Battalion Chief] Mike Castillo that the fire was so hot that the house had to be knocked down to put it out.
We know that guy [the telephone pole climber] was going into other backyards and other properties...then one day we heard explosions. [The squatters] probably brought in some kind of accelerant.
This has completely disrupted my construction schedule...I'm medically disabled, so I'm not building right now. I told the insurance company that if I open up my house I'm going to get more smoke damage than was already here.
The sheer number of crazies that stayed in the house was phenomenal. I would hear shouting matches...[the squatters] were fighting amongst themselves about drugs. I do know one of the homeless people poisoned a dog. [One family] had a pitbull for protection - [the squatters] poisoned that dog for barking. The dog was doing his job.
I saw two crews of "strippers" - people who came to steal things from the house - four times. The police never showed up.
I'm going to guesstimate there were nine fires total because we had major fires and we had smaller fires. I put out one fire. A homeless woman set a fire in the back house and I ran back to my house for a bucket of water and put it out.
Kevin's office made a statement after the seventh fire "we're on it and it's important to us". Nothing happened. I met one of his representatives about a month ago...there was some kind of an advisory council so I did attend that and I was able to talk about what a fantastic job the LAFD had done. But as far as seeing any action from the City Council, no.
We had extremely windy days that had knocked down termite-infested boards, so some neighbors got together to patch them up, but the cat was out of the bag and the homeless already knew the house was vacant. I walked into the house and the granny flat and admired everything...several days later I saw homeless people wheeling trash cans down the street [filled with things stolen from the house].

I've attached Battalion Chief Castillo's email below. Email addresses have been cropped out to protect the privacy of the neighbors CCed on the email. The email was also sent to the following City employees:

Johnny Altamirano, LAPD Area Captain

Manuel Ayala Escamilla, CD13 caseworker

Susana Lopez, Boyle Heights Area Director

Shawn Eshbach, Principal Inspector for LADBS

Todd Cremins, Fire Captain II, LAFD

Gerald Gubatan, Senior Planning Advisor for CD13

Eric Roberts, Fire Captain, LAFD

Thomas Raymond, Fire Captain, LAFD

You heard it here first, folks: squatters set NINE FIRES (give or take) and the city pretty much ignored MULTIPLE requests for help. (Except LAFD.) Now the house is gone, and the frequent fires damaged several neighboring homes in addition to repeatedly filling Boyle Heights with fire smoke (as if the freeways crisscrossing the Eastside didn't already pollute the air enough).

It's an outrage - and the city's "leadership" just gets away with it.

Join the discussion!

C.C. de Vere

About C.C. de Vere

C.C. is a fourth-generation Angeleno and is horrified at what greed and hubris are doing to Los Angeles.

This website was built by her preservation pals at Esotouric.

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