WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Fire officials said several of the recent house fires on abandoned properties have been caused by transients or people who aren’t supposed to be there.

The Wichita Falls Fire Department said it’s tough to keep squatters out of these abandoned homes, but these fires are putting community members and their homes at risk as well.

There have recently been several instances where WFFD has been called to a house that is supposed to be vacant.

“Fires can happen for any number of reasons,” Wichita Falls Fire Marshal Cody Melton said. “Obviously it’s not heating, but that’s in the winter time. These houses are typically unoccupied, the owner is out of town, hard to get ahold of, and it really affects the neighbors.”

Melton said if a fire does occur in an abandoned residence, property owners are held responsible. Owners have seen damages upwards of $15,000.

“There has been an uptick in fires with vagrants in the home – squatters or whatever,” Melton said. “We know it’s tough, but us and code enforcement are really working towards finding a solution.”

The best thing to do is try to make sure all vacant homes are boarded up to keep squatters out.

“Typically, it’s probably cooking, smoking, normal things, but when you have 10-15 in and out, that’s not their home, maybe they don’t really care if it burns or not,” Melton said.

If you see someone in a home they aren’t supposed to be in, you’re urged to contact law enforcement. You may be saving a life.

“If somebody sees someone in a home that they shouldn’t be, just let us or code enforcement or somebody else in the city know, and hopefully we can get something done about it,” Melton said.

There are people in charge of making sure vacant houses are properly boarded up, but if you see suspicious activity, please let law enforcement know.