Another fire strikes one-time ‘restaurant row’

RIVERSIDE – (INT) – A series of fires in vacant buildings along University Avenue is being linked to the growing homeless population.

The former Mandarin Garden Restaurant went up in flames late Friday. Firefighters first on scene shortly after 10:30pm found fire had engulfed nearly the entire building. It took nearly 3-hours to contain the flames.

Losses were estimated at $650,000. There were no reported injuries.

Although the official cause of the blaze is under investigation, officials say the homeless have previously broken into other vacant restaurants and motels along University Avenue between Cranford Avenue and Iowa Avenue.

Warming fires, and others used for cooking, have been set. Some have gotten out of control.

Property owners have taken steps to protect their boarded up buildings, but to no avail.

Riverside’s other homeless ‘hot spot’ is the Santa Ana Riverbottom where vegetation fires have become routine.

Another fire earlier in the week attributed to the homeless in nearby Fairmount Park burned several trees and damaged the boathouse at Lake Evans. Another vegetation fire Sunday flared in the riverbottom near Ryan Bonaminio Park sending up a plume of smoke that was visible throughout much of the city.