"My initial reaction was shock:" Three vacant homes, up in flames; was the blaze intentionally set?

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Three homes in Milwaukee went up in flames on Sunday afternoon, October 12th, and investigators are looking into whether arsonists set the blaze.

Three homes near 12th and Highland in Milwaukee are charred after Sunday afternoon's blaze. One of the homes belongs to "Guest House of Milwaukee," which provides shelter and other services for the city's homeless.

The homes were not abandoned at the time of the fire, but they were vacant.

"My initial reaction was shock. We were aware there were some people hanging around the house. We were unsure of what the activities were, but to see that it actually caught fire was alarming to us," Cindy Krahenbuhl said.

Krahenbuhl is the executive director of the Guest House of Milwaukee.

The organization has owned the property that caught fire for about 10 years. Residents were living there up until early spring, when they had to leave because of radiator issues.

"We did, unfortunately, in the last few months have some break-ins, so that is the suspicious people we have seen around the property," Krahenbuhl said.

Fire spread to a home Sunday after fire crews believe fires were set in two homes. Those homes suffered major damage and the fire quickly spread to a third home.

"The houses were fully-involved in fire on all floors. In the rear cottage, we know that it started in the basement," Milwaukee Fire Department Deputy Chief Brian Smith said.

The fire led to more than $700,000 in damage to the three properties.

"We'll have to make a decision if it's even worth repairing the building how it is now," Krahenbuhl said.

It is unclear how long the buildings were burning, because officials say no one ever called 911.

"It's crazy. It was in the middle of the day -- 12:15, busy intersection, right next to the interstate. Someone would have seen something and made a phone call -- but some people might have seen it and assumed that someone else made that phone call," Smith said.

"I think it's surprising that no one called," Krahenbuhl said.

Whether the buildings could have been saved is still unknown, but fire officials have a message for the community.

"We encourage you, if you happen to see (a fire) make the call (to 911)," Smith said.

No one was injured in the fire.

Milwaukee Fire Department investigators as well as the Milwaukee Police Department's Arson Unit are trying to determine how the fire started and who may be responsible.

Officials say this is the second fire involving a vacant home in Milwaukee to occur over the past three weeks.

Related stories: