By Tom Kiurski
In the small community of Coatesville, Pa., more than 70 arson fires were set between February 2008 and March 2009. Coatesville has just over 11,000 residents, and the arson fires took the community by surprise. The fires caused more than $3 million in damages, left more than 100 people homeless, and resulted in the death of a resident and injuries to eight firefighters. These arson fires robbed the community of its valuable assets, lives and property. It can also result in declining property values, increased insurance premiums and a loss of business revenue.
At the national level, more than 210,000 intentionally set fires occur each year. These intentional fires account for 13 percent of fires responded to by fire departments, kill approximately 375 citizens, injure another 1,300 and cause more than $1 billion in direct property loss each year. The 2011 Arson Awareness Week campaign is being called “Working Together to Extinguish Serial Arson.” This national effort allows us to be aware of arson and how to avoid becoming a victim of this crime.
Juveniles are responsible for the majority of arsons in the United States. These youngsters typically have matches or lighters in their possession and time on their hands. They usually strike in their own neighborhoods. Knowing this, let's take a look at some of the things you can do to stop this from happening to you and your neighbors.
First, since they usually live in the neighborhood they set fires in, they do not want to be recognized. Make sure you have some motion-sensor lighting outside your home that will come on if they move in close to your home. Keep your shrubs and trees trimmed so that they have no easy hiding spots. In addition, keep combustibles away from your home. Most juveniles do not carry fuel to start the fire with; they look for the yards that have plenty of it on hand.
Talk to your neighbors and keep watch of each other's homes. Let them know about vacations, people who may be stopping by and emergency contacts of people to call if you see suspicious activity around their home. It may be an immediate 911 call if the situation warrants it, or a call to a relative if you want to know about someone pulling up to the home.
Finally, test and maintain all smoke alarms in your home, make sure you have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it and develop and practice a home fire escape plan for your family. Have a predetermined outside family meeting place, and call 911 from outside the home.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.