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Firefighter Injured While Rescuing Squatters from Auto Dealership Fire

Firefighter Injured While Rescuing Squatters from Auto Dealership Fire

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San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

March 15, 2010

VALLEJO — A three-alarm fire scorched a shuttered Vallejo auto dealership often frequented by the homeless, authorities said.

Vallejo firefighters responded about 7 a.m. to the former Bill Lang’s Cadillac Pontiac at 4301 Sonoma Blvd. The call escalated to three alarms before crews from Vallejo, Crockett, American Canyon, Benicia and Cal Fire had the blaze under control about an hour later.

One Vallejo firefighter suffered a minor knee injury rescuing a pair of homeless squatters from part of the complex that did not catch fire, Vallejo Fire Department spokesman Bill Tweedy said.

The fire originated in the former service garage. It was unclear what sparked it, Tweedy said.

The dealership has been vacant several years and is known to authorities as a place where homeless people camp.

Just a month ago, law enforcement officials and homeless advocates investigated the site together, finding about eight squatters living in different buildings, said John Allen, a program director with Vallejo’s nonprofit Fighting Back Partnership.

“We found a lot of homeless people in there,” said Allen, adding that police had been called to the property many times. “It wasn’t about kicking the homeless people out … but we had concerns about people cooking with fires.”

Mental health officials and representatives from local shelters offered resources to the homeless people, Allen said. Two parolees, including one with a warrant for assault with a deadly weapon, were taken into custody, Allen said. Police told other squatters to vacate.