MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas -- A Montgomery County home was set on fire twice in 24 hours apparently by squatters, and neighbors in the Imperial Oaks Subdivision say they’ve been trying for years to get the actual owner to do something with the vacant home.
Piles of burned debris littered the driveway: Barbie dolls, big wheels and toys, remnants of happier times long before this week.
“Coming home from work to see a massive cloud of smoke in the street certainly was not what I was expecting,” said neighbor Jacob Hafemeister.
Wednesday’s fire was doubly surprising to neighbors.
“There were 2 fires in about 24 hours,” said neighbor Julie Gromdin.
The Montgomery County Fire Marshall believes both blazes were deliberately set. The house, located on 1911 Wickburn Drive, has been vacant for at least two years.
According to Montgomery County tax records, the owner is Michelle Hays and the property taxes have been paid. Neighbors describe her as odd and say she and her kids moved out with a couple of boxes and the home has been empty since – inviting trouble.
“There were some arrests made involving some squatters, there were rumors they were using it as a meth lab, but I don’t know if there was any truth to that,” said Hafemeister.
Authorities describe it as “criminal activity.” The Homeowners Association for Imperial Oaks has tried repeatedly to contact Hays at her new address, not far from here, but has gotten no reply. The HOA tells us it mows the yard, and recently built a new fence and boarded up the back of the house to keep out squatters. If Hays is not paying her homeowners dues, the association could take action.
“The place was abandoned. I believe they were trying to force a foreclosure,” said Gromdin.
Neighbors hope this fire may be the catalyst for real change.
“I can’t understand how someone could walk away from their property like that, but you know hopefully it’s an opportunity for a new beginning for someone else,” said Gromdin.
KHOU 11 News did stop by another address for Hays in Shenandoah, but no one answered. The HOA can’t reveal if they are working to foreclose the home because of privacy issues. They are waiting on legal advice before figuring out how to clean up the property now that it’s not livable.