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Condemned house on Brockway burns as neighborhood eyes nuisance law

MORGANTOWN — Almost as if to prove a point, a condemned house at 619 Brockway Avenue caught fire on Friday.

There were no injuries and the fire was controlled in a short period of time according to Morgantown Fire Chief Mark Caravasos.

The blaze comes as the Greenmont neighborhood in which the house is located pushes the city for a nuisance house ordinance that would give the city teeth to go after the owners of problem structures — be they empty or active rentals.

In this instance, the house sits feet from 201 Overdale Street, a vacant building that burned in January of 2019. Work crews were actually razing that structure while firefighters battled the blaze across the street.

Both properties are owned by Herold Berthy.

According to a city press release, a witness saw two males and one female exit the building on the Pennsylvania Avenue side shortly before smoke became visible.

One of the males got onto a bicycle, and the other male and female ran on foot toward Kingwood Street. All three were carrying large backpacks and dressed in dark clothing.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Morgantown Arson Hotline at 304-225-3586.

The fire closed Brockway Avenue for about two hours Friday afternoon.

“The building was overloaded with a huge amount of trash. That included needles, which is a major concern of mine with these abandoned structures,” Caravasos said. “My firefighters go in to do a job and they’re exposed to needles on the floor and everywhere else.”

Adelheid Schaupp, a property owner and landlord spearheading the nuisance house push in Greenmont, recently told Morgantown City Council that many of the neighborhood’s problem houses are concentrated on Brockway and Pennsylvania avenues.

Working with Morgantown Code Enforcement, Police Chief Ed Preston said the MPD routinely checks more than 80 houses across the city listed as condemned or vacant.

“We’re constantly finding them in such dangerous states of disorder, criminal and dangerous activity — literally thousands of needles in these places. We find indications of drug use. We find indications of theft,” Preston said, explaining that the city simply doesn’t have enough officers to keep people out of the houses illegally.

He went on to say that current city code isn’t sufficient to make property owners secure their properties or otherwise deal with repeated unwanted behavior in their properties. He also noted that trespassing in vacant and abandoned structures is not a jailable offense under state code.

“Let me give you an example,” Preston told council. “We go out, find a house occupied that is supposed to be vacant. It’s supposed to be condemned … We clear the house. They put new condemnation signs up on it. Four hours later we’ve got people breaking into the house. There’s more vacant houses than there are police officers.”