Vacant Apartment Building Catches Fire in Gulfport

Firefighters are searching for clues to determine what caused a massive fire at the former Courtyard Apartments on Debuys Road in Gulfport. The fire broke just before 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. When firefighters arrived on the scene, the entire west side of the Courtyard Apartment building was consumed in flames. It took more than 20 firefighters about an hour to contain the blaze.

This fire is a prime example of how abandoned buildings are a threat to south Mississippi. Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan says, this was his worst fear come true.

"This is one of our more significant fires. These are the kinds of things we're worried about. The cold and the wind is a problem, but these guys are tough, they train for this."

Power and gas has long been cut off to the building, so Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan believes people seeking shelter from the cold may be to blame.

He says "We have run people out of this complex. We have evidence that they have been staying in this complex. We go into some of these complexes, and they have a bedroom set up; they have beds, tables, lamps chairs -- all the comforts of home. Unfortunately, it's very very dangerous."

Sullivan says he's concerned about the number of buildings still sitting vacant since Katrina.

"It's just a really bad situation with these buildings, and we're going to get aggressive with these buildings. Now this is a prime example, and we're just not going to let these buildings stand vacant. Our firefighters are in danger - you can see the magnitude of the fire - the public is in danger."

He says now is the time for action, and his agency is prepared to do whatever it takes to get property owners to act.

"We're serious about the fact of having them either boarded up to the point where nobody can get in. They are going to be torn down, rehabilitated, or we're going to be in court."

Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan told WLOX they still weren't sure if anyone was inside the building when it caught fire. His crews are investigating.

It just so happens, Chief Sullivan had 2 phone conversations in the past week with property owners about the condition of Courtyard Apartments. WLOX asked him, what seems to be the hold up for getting rid of these abandoned buildings? He told us, mostly property owners are waiting for insurance, or for someone to buy the property.