Heartland Eyesore has local fire chief worried

Heartland Eyesore has local fire chief worried
By: Holly Brantley

CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY, Mo. - A number of your calls and emails led us to investigate a vacant property in Cape County near Fruitland. Those who pass by daily want to know why the place is such a mess. We found out, there's much more to this story than meets the eye.

Turns out the place once served as both a gas station and the home of Laverne Cunningham and her late husband. Since it was a gas station, it takes money to properly clean it up. And Cunningham's health also keeps her from keeping up the place.

Because of that neighbors are sympathetic. "There's all kinds of things in there to step on or fall over," said Dean Riley. Riley is the Fruitland Fire Chief and he's also a neighbor.

The mess has obviously been here for a while. But neighbors spoke highly of the Cunningham's. Some even tried to talk us out of airing the story. 

Riley says he feels for the family. But, he points out several potential hazards on the property. "Anybody could come in here at anytime and do things that would be a real hazard to the fire department," said Riley.

Since there was a gas station on the property, the old tanks could present a hazard. Even propane tanks attached to old vehicles could still ignite. "It doesn't bother us, whatever they do. But, if there's a fire that could be a different story," said Frieda Kistner, who lives nearby. She says the mess doesn't bother her, but the thought of a fire does. "There's a big pile of wood on this side. If there's a fire the whole thing would go up in flames. I don't think we need a fire here."

Meanwhile, Riley says since the property is outside the city limits. There's no ordinance that says the place has to be cleaned up. "It can wind up like this and there's nothing anybody can do about it," said Riley.

He also points out this place isn't the only eyesore around Fruitland. "I could show you some that would make this place look good," said Riley. According to Mrs. Cunningham, she says according to the Environmental Protection Agency. There are no laws that says she has to clean things up as long as the property stays in her family. She hopes to pass the property down to another family member who might be able to afford the $10,000 clean up cost.