There have been a string of around ten fires, probable arsons, in Jeff Vander Lou and St. Louis Place over the past three days.
Up until tonight, they all happened within a four-block area bounded by St. Louis, Glasgow, Hebert, and Jefferson. Glasgow is the western boundary of Blairmont property ownership in that area, and it’s also the boundary of the Fifth Ward there.
Tonight, 2206 Hebert burned. It’s at the edge of St. Louis Place Park, nearly to North Florissant. It’s several blocks east of the other fires, but still well within the boundaries of the Blairmont project area. It is owned by N&G Ventures, a Blairmont company. It is not the only building owned by a Blairmont company on its block, and in fact the next couple of blocks west along Hebert have some pretty high concentrations of Blairmont owned properties.
I had heard about the other fires, and so it was a terrible, terrible thing to sit here in my living room this evening, on the verge of sleep, and find myself yanked out of my peaceful state by the clamoring of numerous fire engines, the wail of all those sirens and the unmistakable honking of engine horns. It was clear from the sounds that they were all stopping nearby, and that it was not a small fire.
I climbed up on my roof, not expecting to be able to discern anything, and was met instead with the sight of a tall, luminous cloud of smoke just three blocks west of here. To see so much smoke so close to home, to know what it meant, was a terrible, sick feeling.
I went to see the fire. Thankfully, the building was not a total loss, but it felt so, so debilitating nonetheless. After years of Blairmont’s pummelings, I stood there and wondered how this can happen, and felt like no one cares about us here at all (Melodramatic, yes, but you try watching a similar event and see how you feel). Watching those flames lick at those iconic Near North Side eyebrow lintels, three blocks from my house, I felt profoundly helpless. Three blocks is not that great of a distance. Will it be closer next time? Will it be this one, or that one that’s attached to the one that’s being rehabbed? Playing that “What’s going to burn around here next?” game is a quick and surefire way to make oneself very queasy very fast.
KSDK covered the blazes today. Neighbors are interviewed. One man is watching his sister’s house while she’s at church, because they are terrified that the vacant building next door will catch fire and spread to her house. Unfortunately, it’s a completely legitimate fear. It’s a terrible, terrible way to live, to have to worry like that for one’s own home and safety. As I sit here, wearily wide awake at 3AM, I wonder how many people a few blocks west of me are awake, too, trying to protect their homes. Sitting up all night, knowing that you’ve got to sleep some time, biting your nails, holding the phone in your hand, tensing at the sound of every siren…. It’s terrorism in the most literal sense of the word, creating deep and unceasing fear in the hearts of one’s targets.
The magic question: What is the involvement of Blairmont in this? I do not know, but they did own and neglect the building, and had it been occupied this would not have happened. One wonders how many of the other recently burned properties they own.
I will say that I find it rather interesting that the batch of arsons up until this point all falls squarely within the bounds of the Blairmont project area, stopping at the west at the very street that bounds the Blairmont area (Glasgow). And on the North Side, there are plenty of other concentrations of vacant buildings that an arsonist could easily burn which do not fall neatly inside someone’s real estate project boundaries (where the objective of the project seems to be widespread bulldozing, no less). These are areas that have seen some brick rustling, but that have yet to experience the levels of devastation achieved elsewhere within McKee’s project area.
If Blairmont did not cause these fires directly, their ongoing parasitic landbanking and aggressive neglect in our community over the past several years created the conditions that allowed them to happen.
Even if it really is just the brick rustlers to blame (Fire separates the brick from the wood handily, and makes the police less even likely to stop illegal demolition than they already are.), brick rustling was not such a problem around here until Blairmont ownership started to metastasize. They used to pick off a wall here or there, but they now erase entire blocks, due in no small part to Blairmont’s ongoing depopulation and forcible neglect of our area.
And speak of the devil–in the process of typing this, I heard not one but THREE distinct rounds of sirens to the west of here. Oh, no. Please, no.
I promise you that Paul McKee does not sit up at night, hearing rounds of sirens and wondering, nervously, nervously, what buildings near his home must be burning. I promise you he doesn’t live like this.