Bitter winter cold linked to abandoned structure fires

Bitter winter cold linked to abandoned structure fires
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 6:24 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - City fire officials say they’ve seen an increase of fires in abandoned buildings in recent months. These have been linked to people trying to find a way to escape bitter cold nights. The people working to help those in need say they’ve been struggling to keep up.

Winter is an especially difficult time for those experiencing homelessness.

“The winter months are always the worst for the folks that we serve, especially on the street,” said Aurora Executive Director Zac Heronemus.

When the temperature drops, shelters open their doors to help those in need escape the cold, but they can’t accommodate everyone. This creates a significant problem for Evansville, which local experts say has gradually increased in homelessness over recent years.

“We believe that we’re probably pushing the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the state of Indiana, as we have traditionally, which is disappointing considering the downtick, but understood considering the amount of prevention dollars that are no longer here keeping people stabilized and making sure they’re not dipping into the homeless experience,” said Heronemus.

The Evansville Fire Department says between October and early March there have been twelve fires in abandoned buildings or homes caused by people lighting fires to try and stay warm, have light, or cook food.

Organizations like Aurora and United Caring Services are doing what they can to help, but they say they’re struggling to address all the need.

“Prioritizing is almost the name of the game with respect to what we do,” said Heronemus. “Our resources are limited.”

Local experts say before the pandemic, they counted 488 people in shelters or living on the street in Evansville. They say in January that number had jumped above 500.

To learn more about those working to help those experiencing homelessness in Evansville, or to see ways you can get involved, visit and