Vacant HISD building that caught fire in southeast Houston wasn't empty for years, neighbors say

Nick Natario Image
Wednesday, April 3, 2024
Investigators looking for answers after vacant HISD building ignites
Neighbors in southeast Houston are asking if HISD was doing enough to prevent a fire at a building that was once a media center for the district.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Southeast Houston neighbors said a vacant Houston ISD building wasn't often empty, and they wonder if the district did enough to secure the grounds before a fire broke out.

On Tuesday, the former HISD media center building near the Telephone Road and Griggs Road intersection caught fire. Houston firefighters said the building had been vacant for more than five years.

It was a place that was supposed to be empty, but neighbors were concerned as flames shot into the sky.

"At least nobody was there because a lot of people in the complex - we were worried," Paul Mounobi said.

They were fearful because the vacant building on Telephone Road wasn't usually empty.

"It's rare to see people during the day," Mounobi explained. "Most of the time, it's at night. At 1 or 2 in the morning, you can see (someone) go in there and probably (see the) sleeping."

Mounobi said he's seen more than sleeping. He believes he's witnessed illegal activity.

SEE PREVIOUS STORY: Fire engulfs SE Houston building that neighbors call a magnet for crime

ABC13 was the first to show the dramatic flames from an intense firefight. Eyewitness News is learning new information from neighbors who said they've had to deal with the nuisance building.

Other neighbors told ABC13 something similar. They said the problem was an old fence that didn't keep people out.

Neighbors say it was replaced a few months ago. Eyewitness News asked HISD whether it had done enough to secure the property.

They didn't answer.

ABC13 asked the Houston Police Department if anyone had called them about these concerns, but they hadn't heard any reports in the last six months. There were three 311 calls but nothing about people on the property.

Mounobi explained why he didn't call the police.

"You just mind your business because you don't know who is who," Mounobi said.

Firefighters aren't ruling out that someone may have been inside and started the fire. On Wednesday, arson investigators used a drone to collect evidence and looked for surveillance video.

Firefighters said the property was closed pretty tight when they arrived Tuesday night.

But it wasn't good enough for some neighbors who say they've witnessed people on the vacant HISD grounds for years.

"A lot of people can be in there. You don't know who's in there," Mounobi said. "I said, 'They might be homeless. They might be someone else.' Just for the safety, they have to at least close the building."

For updates on this story, follow Nick Natario on Facebook, X and Instagram.