GAFFNEY, S.C. (WSPA) — Gaffney Fire Department leaders are asking people to board up and secure their vacant buildings.

“We’re really just asking the property owners to help us out,” said Fire Marshal Billy Bishop.

Bishop said crews have spent hundreds of hours fighting fires at abandoned properties and said these efforts could help prevent more fires. He said in the past four years, the department has responded to 27 fires at abandoned or vacant properties.

“We knew those numbers were high, but I don’t think we really understood how high those numbers were. 27 doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you start talking about house fires over a short period of time like that, that’s a very high number,” said Bishop.

Bishop said one of those fires happened at a home on Fifth Street last Friday.

“These houses that literally have no doors and no windows, and the houses are falling apart, and the grass is as tall as I am, those are the area that people are coming to. That’s basically a magnet for the stuff that we’re talking about,” said Bishop.

He said these types of fires can be dangerous for crews and people who could be inside the building.

“We do have to treat those houses like somebody’s in there and that’s the even more dangerous part. These houses that are abandoned and vacant, the structural stability of them is already probably weakening and then we’re putting guys in there on top of that and it’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Bishop.

Now, he’s asking property owners to board up and maintain their land.

“The property owners are our best help right now, in trying to upkeep these properties and keep them secure,” said Bishop.

He said there are laws that require owners to keep their properties in shape, but he said it’s a lengthy process and can be hard to enforce if officials can’t find the owner.

“The problem is, is you have to have a code enforcement officer that goes out and identifies the property owner, then you have to locate them, then you have to summon them to court, and the judge is going to give them so much time to bring the building into compliance,” said Bishop.

He also encourages people to make sure their vacant properties are well lit. For people who don’t live near their vacant property, he suggested asking neighbors to keep an eye on the property to help deter any suspicious activity.

According to the city of Gaffney’s code, if a building official finds a property is not in compliance with the code, they can issue a property complaint which states any charges. The complaint also notifies the owner about a hearing, where they can appear in person and respond. City code states the property will owner will need to bring the property into compliance, remove or demolish the structure, or vacate and close it. If the owner does not comply, a building official can remedy the issue and any cost will be a lien against the property.

People can view the city code online.