Who's to blame? Highland Park resident loses part of home to fire possibly caused by homeless

Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Highland Park homeless encampment blamed for house fire
A Highland Park homeowner lost part of her house to a fire likely started by a neighboring homeless encampment.

HIGHLAND PARK, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In a Highland Park neighborhood, a black tarp suggests a home under remodel.

Feet away, a concrete slab shows what could have been left of it.

"We're standing on what used to be my garage/barn," said homeowner Liliana Nava.

Nava was home around noon on Aug. 14 - one of the few luckier details.

"I heard the neighbor banging on the metal fence," said Nava. "I looked out the window and she looked a little distressed. I ran down and she just said, 'Fire!'"

The Los Angeles city Fire Department arrived fast enough to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the house, but the damage was done to the garage, her 74-year-old mother's bedroom, and the power line. To this day they have no electricity.

"In 10 minutes, I just saw everything fall apart," said Nava.

She says investigators told her the fire likely started on the other side of her fence, by neighbors living in an encampment.

Because there was no suspect, there will be no arrest. And, she says, no arson investigation.

"If it was somebody that had something to lose, or somebody that had an address, then you would point the finger," said Nava. "They would take them to court and go through the process. But because they're homeless, they don't care."

The fire that damaged her property was the first of this scale, but it wasn't the first fire in that walking path behind her home, or the last.

Video from Aug. 25 shows a small contained fire between a tent and her neighbor's garage.

Nava says she and other neighbors have complained several times.

"The city at some point does come and clean up," said Nava. "They move them around, but they always come back."

She's working with her homeowner's insurance to try and recover from what happened, and worries about what may happen if nothing changes.

"I know my neighbors have kids, and elderly parents too," said Nava. "I would hate for a tragedy to happen just because we were ignored again."

The LAFD says the cause of the fire is undetermined and they would need evidence of potential arson in order to launch an investigation.

The office of Nava's city councilmember, Eunisses Hernandez, sent a statement which read in part: "In addition to our regular outreach efforts, we are working with several partners and service providers to coordinate delivery of services. This includes working with an LASAN team to clean up the surrounding area as well as outreach teams who are onsite regularly to provide services and fire abatement education."