PANA – A major fire in Pana on Monday evening is the latest suspected case of arson to a vacant building in the city, and now there is a concerted effort being made to identify and clear derelict properties.

Monday's fire involved a former grocery store on Cedar Street that reached two stories in height and was consumed quickly in the fierce blaze. The Pana Fire Department called in mutual aid from the Tower Hill and Oconee fire departments and it took several hours to deal with the blaze and its aftermath.

This latest fire follows on from two vacant homes torched in January and a spate of four arson fires in the span of a few hours on the night of July 8.

Pana Fire Chief Rod Bland says his department is now working with the City of Pana and a community group called Pana Pride to tackle Pana's empty buildings. A recent survey identified more than 70 vacant houses alone dotted throughout the city.

“Some of them people could remodel and do-up, but a lot of them are beyond that,” said Bland. And he said the survey did not count the city's empty and crumbling commercial buildings, many of them of considerable size.

Bland said the survey so far is helping his department by identifying which vacant houses still have power and natural gas hooked up.

“That way we're know what we're going into a little bit better,” if those buildings burn, said the chief.

But the longer term aim is trace ownership or seek legal control “to see if there is any pressure to be put there” to speed up demolition of properties that are beyond help and now only pose a fire hazard.

“The issue is to try to get something happening and find out about these blighted properties,” Bland said. “We want to just try and clean our town up and make it look better.”

Bland, who suspects many of the fires are set by kids who “like to watch the fire trucks, watch the firemen,” says the arson blazes pose many dangers. There is the risk of fire spreading, he says, and the risk to his crews who have to check to see if anybody is inside.

“We can't just stand back and let it go, we have to put our guys in there and that becomes a danger to us,” he said.

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Staff Writer

Courts and public safety reporter for the Herald & Review.

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