ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - "There's a lot of safety issues when a property is vacant," said Lt. Joel Granata of St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue.
At a quick glance, it's difficult to tell whether a home is vacant or not. But a closer look reveals many empty houses show the tell-tale signs; such as the lock box on the door, an old newspaper on the roof, or the foreclosure stickers in the window.
And those vacant properties can be hot spots for trouble in the neighborhood.
Nine-year-old Tereon Lasseter was in the rear of a vacant house at 2134 8th Ave N. when he was burned on Sunday.
"Kids are suspicious by nature, and curious. So they just wander onto the property. There's nobody there and they're looking for something to do. Maybe not intentionally get into any kind of mischief; but, by accident they do get themselves into some kind of trouble," explained Granata.
A house can be vacant but still be code-compliant. So in many situations, it falls on neighbors to keep a watchful eye on an empty house.
Paul Dickens lives in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood in St. Pete. He says awareness and communication are the keys to keeping the neighborhood informed.
"People probably should be concerned about vacant properties if they pose hazards like (what) happened yesterday. But it's up to the people to watch their children and see where they're playing," Dickens said.
High fences and tall shrubs make it difficult to know if there may be activity taking place at a vacant home. An open window at a property known to be empty is a red flag.
"If they know that the house is vacant for sure, they see children or kids or homeless, anybody on that property, call your local law enforcement," said Granata.
With thousands of vacant homes in the bay area, keeping tabs on the ones near you will help your neighborhood stay safe.