Texas Fire Investigators Believe Homeless Committing Arson

In its day, the International Hotel was one of El Paso's finest, but now it seems to be a place for only the homeless. Fire investigators believe transients accidentally started a fire there on Saturday night.

"You could see the flames from out in the street, especially from these two rooms here," said Lt. Joe Sarabia with the El Paso Fire Department.

More than 100 fire fighters responded to the blaze.

"We were speculating about when this thing was going to go up for that reason. We do have transients that are occupying the building sometimes," said fire department Lt. Sam Pena.

Fire investigators say the fire started on the sixth floor. They found makeshift torches used to light up the rooms and hallways. Investigators believe the torch caught the mattresses and couches on fire.

Fire investigators believe transients occupying the hotel accidentally set the fire. They believe vagrants and vandals are still breaking into this property and because of that the building continues to be a threat to the public.

"Last week someone was on top of one of the balconies throwing stuff off," said chief building inspector Tom McGuire.

In a 2003 special assignment, KFOX revealed the condition of the hotel. And as a result the city council voted on condemning the property. But several months ago, a new owner claimed the property and has plans to renovate.

"It was declared open and unsecured a couple of years ago. It's not condemned to the point where everything has to be torn down or redone but it does need to be maintained secure," said McGuire.

Despite the owner's effort to keep the building secure, it's obvious transients are making it their home. Firefighters say until something changes it will continue to be hazard.

"Could it happen again, probably. It's secured however, it's very easy to make your way into these buildings especially when they've been vacant for so long," said Pena.

The city authorized a security guard to patrol the area, but will bill the owners. The owner as of eight months ago is the David G. Franklin Corporation. KFOX tried to reach one of the partners and he couldn't be reached for comment.

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