Fire breaks out in abandoned SLC home; two homeless people arrested

SALT LAKE CITY – The goal is to crackdown on crime and help the homeless, but some worry ‘Operation Rio Grande’ is creating problems for other neighborhoods across the valley.

A fire broke out at an abandoned home Saturday morning at 211 North Cornell Street. Police arrested two homeless people who were found inside.

“I was making breakfast and started smelling something, hoping it wasn't my breakfast,” said Anna Smart.

Smart looked out her window and saw flames shooting out of the vacant home across the street. She called 911.

“I was scared because there's a lot of dry grass out here," Smart said.

Salt Lake City firefighters knocked down the flames within 10 minutes and before the blaze could spread.

“Confined the damage just to that structure, it was quick, fast and rapid,” said Captain Curtis Shafer of the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Investigators say they found two homeless people inside. Smart isn’t surprised.

“Sometimes drifters or the homeless might come in and sleep in there," she said.

It’s been an ongoing problem for the property owner, Peter Corroon, the former chair of the Utah Democratic Party.

He said he's boarded up the home several times, but squatters keep coming back. With "Operation Rio Grande" underway, he says the problem could get worse.

“This house that burned down today, they've had a murder here, we've had drug dealing, and now the people living there decided to burn it down on their way out," Corroon said.

Corroon would like to tear down the home, but he said a city ordinance would require him to have a permit in place to construct a new building.

“It's just a matter of the city council coming up with an ordinance that lets property owners tear down abandoned homes, because really right now they're nothing but a blight on the community, and they're havens for drug addicts, havens for people who are, you know, causing trouble,” Corroon said.

Salt Lake Police have not released any more information about the two people they arrested and what charges they’re facing.