• December 18, 2014

Old mobile home parks in Heights spark fire concerns

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 4:30 am

HARKER HEIGHTS — Fire doesn’t discriminate and anyone can become its next victim.

Over the past nine months, the Harker Heights Fire Department responded to four mobile home fires, three of them in the Wood Lawn Mobile Home Park owned by resident and landlord Heidi Moss, 82, according to Fire Chief Jack Collier.

Her home on Roy Reynolds Drive caught fire in the early morning hours March 17 and quickly spread to three other structures. Heights Fire Marshal Brad Alley said Moss’ home was the source of the “accidental and unintentional” blaze. Fires in trailer parks like Moss’ burn faster and spread due to the close proximity of the structures.

“She is very lucky to have gotten out alive, and thankfully, the other structures were vacant,” Collier said. “The situation there could have been much worse.”

Like many of the 21 trailer parks within Harker Heights, many mobile homes are decades old and do not meet the city’s current code or building standards.

“She will be the Phoenix that rises out of the ashes,” said Moss’ son, George Moss. “Running this park is what she says keeps her going so she will recover from this.”

Up to code

New mobile homes in Heights are required to have a minimum of 35 feet clearance between each trailer. A majority of older mobile homes in Heights are grandfathered into existing nonconformance, and the only way officials can bring them up to code is if 50 percent of the property is damaged or is undergoing renovations.

In such cases, whatever is being replaced or upgraded must be brought up to current city standards, said Fred Morris, director of planning and development.

In January 2013, the city conducted a survey of all of its trailer parks to gain a better sense of how many parks were in compliance and up to code with current standards. Of the 21 parks, seven comply with the 35-foot clearance between units.

Collier said Heidi Moss’s park, which has been in existence for decades, is not in compliance with the city’s current codes. George Moss said his mother was not ready to comment on recent events.

“Everyone thinks it’s not going to happen to them, instead of thinking about what they can do to make their homes safer,” Collier said. “We would all be better off that way. If we can prevent a fire before it starts, we have really done our jobs.”

Most home and structure fires can be avoided, Collier said.

“A working smoke alarm should be in every sleeping area, routine maintenance should be kept up, items should be properly stored and electrical circuits should not be overloaded,” he said. “Also, never leave food unattended when cooking.”

According to the 2013 survey, nine parks were not well maintained or in good states of repair and none of them comply with the city’s annual request to inspect water and sewer conveyance systems.

When it comes to keeping residents safe, City Manager David Mitchell said it’s all about voluntary compliance. He also maintained the city is not opposed to trailer parks. “There is no shame in living in a trailer, and as a matter of fact, I lived in one all throughout college,” he said. “Everyone deserves a place to live and we are all about compliance and getting owners to take care of their properties.”

When property owners don’t comply, the city is forced to step in with costly abatements or by placing liens. Mitchell said the city has already spent 40 percent of its budgeted $60,000 for abatements.

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