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Abandoned Homes Pose Risks for Fires and Severe Burns

One weekday last month in Portland, Oregon, a boarded-up, vacant home burned down in the southeast section of town. Firefighters responded to the home just before 4 p.m. on a Monday to find the house, located at the end of a road, in flames. To minimize the risk of injury, the firefighters went on the defensive and were able to take control of the flames within 10 minutes, said the fire & rescue battalion chief.

Neighbors told firefighters there had been an increase in transient activity at this home and at another abandoned home nearby. Authorities have not yet determined the cause of the fire, but estimated that the house suffered about $10,000 in damage.

By itself, this incident is not much news to report on. But consider this: It’s just the latest in a string of fires in abandoned homes, not just in the Portland area but nationwide as well. For instance, there were four fires in abandoned homes in just two months in Flint, Michigan–all on the same block. And with the number of home foreclosures sure to be high for the foreseeable future, these types of fires are not going to lessen unless precautions are taken by those responsible for the house.

“Firefighters are encountering more and more calls involving homes that are vacant and boarded, especially in certain parts of town,” said a Portland fire department spokesperson. “Because of this, our fire crews are keeping an extra close watch over abandoned homes that may be at risk for becoming attractive nuisances.”

In fact, these homes are magnets for kids to play around in, and sometimes even start a fire in. While they often see no harm in such behavior within an “abandoned” home, they are playing a dangerous game that can result in third degree burns for themselves or for their friends who are with them.

If you are the most recent owner of a home that is no longer occupied, you must be wary of your potential legal liability for severe burn injuries or other types of injuries inflicted on someone inside the house–even if you were not the direct cause of the fire or burn injury, or even present at the time.

Here are some legal details: Landowners are not obligated to protect trespassers who enter their property without permission. But if a landowner knows — or should know — that there are frequent trespassers on his/her property, he or she will be liable for any injuries caused by an unsafe condition on the property if:

– the condition is one the owner created or maintained;
– the condition was likely to cause death or serious bodily harm;
– the condition was such that the owner had reason to believe trespassers would not discover it;
– the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to warn trespassers of the condition and the risk presented.

Furthermore, a different standard of liability applies where the trespassers are children. When children move onto a property without authorization, property owners have a duty to ensure that the property is safe. The reason for this exception is that children tend to be naive regarding dangers on a property, and in fact could be lured to dangerous conditions; such conditions are referred to as