Lincoln’s latest open wound is a 20-foot mountain of scorched and soaked socks, newspapers, phone directories, VHS tapes, T-shirts, lawn chairs, history books and more -- all of it heaped in front of the pit where 2430 Vine St. stood for more than a century.
The property had been a problem long before it burned last month -- the city declared it dangerous in February -- but it’s an even bigger one now.
“I’ve seen people hauling stuff out of there, and I’ve seen people picking through there,” said Shawn Ryba of NeighborWorks Lincoln.
And the mess is attracting more mess, he said. The scrap tires in the backyard, for instance, are multiplying.
But the tires and the piles and the hole in the ground will probably remain until next week, after NeighborWorks buys the property and hires a contractor to clean it up.
The nonprofit had been negotiating with the owner before the fire, with plans to demolish the bungalow and build a new house for a first-time homebuyer.
The 1,064-square-foot house had been vacant for years, but it was far from empty. Firefighters described it as a hoarder home, stacked wall to wall and floor to ceiling with stuff.
It reached the attention of the city’s Problem Resolution Team in January. The team, with representatives from several city and county departments, addresses problem properties that have triggered violations from more than one department. On average, 12 to 15 properties are on the list.
In this case, 2430 Vine St. had caught the attention of the health department because of garbage in the yard. And the police department because of all the abandoned cars. And weed control because of the overgrowth. And building and safety because of the holes in the roof and structural decay.
The Problem Resolution Team talked about the house and its pending sale at its April 26 meeting, said co-chairman Capt. Jim Davidsaver of the Lincoln Police Department.
It burned that night.
Firefighters didn’t go inside to battle the flames because the house was too packed and too dangerous. Instead, they managed the fire and prevented it from spreading.
“The house was completely full. The fire load was huge in there,” said Chief Fire Inspector Bill Moody.
Investigators don’t know what started the fire, and probably never will, Moody said. There was just too much damage.
NeighborWorks still plans to buy the property for about $25,000, the value of the land, Ryba said. The house had been devalued this year to $1,200.
“That house was completely gone, but now it’s literally completely gone,” he said.
Nobody could have predicted the fire that leveled the house in hours. But the city could have done more to slow the house's gradual decline, he said.
“This is the frustrating part for us," Ryba said. "The property has been an issue for a number of years. What I can’t understand is how the city allowed that. The property shouldn’t have been left like that. It shouldn’t have been allowed to decay or deteriorate.”
And it's not the only one. With problem properties all over Lincoln, the city and other groups like NeighborWorks need to work together to find faster solutions, he said.
Since the fire, several city agencies have contacted NeighborWorks, wondering when it’s going to clear the property, he said. But his office can’t touch the land until it takes possession.
It is trying to find a contractor who can start hauling debris as soon as that happens. And by the end of the year, a new family could be living in a new home at 2430 Vine, Ryba said.
“We are excited to get this house,," he said, "or what’s left of it.”