Arson on minds of city fire officials

PARKERSBURG – With the arrival of spring, local fire officials are warning residents to safeguard their homes from arson.

Arson robs communities of lives and property, said chief inspector Capt. Tim Flinn with the Parkersburg Fire Department.

Destroying more than buildings, arson can devastate a community resulting in the decline of the neighborhood through increased insurance premium, loss of business revenue and a decrease in property values, Flinn said.

“When you discover a fire, try and scan the area for any unusual activity or items that may be helpful to law enforcement agencies and fire investigators,” Flinn said.

“With modern technology there are many ways to possibly link suspects to the scenes of arson such as surveillance equipment. Many mobile phone users have the capability to photo persons fleeing a scene; that may also be helpful,” Flinn said.

Flinn said there are many unsolved or open arson cases nationwide and locally. Fire investigators want to obtain information from people regarding arsons.

Arson Awareness Week is May 5-11.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), every year more than 25,000 intentionally set fires in homes result in an estimated 300 deaths, 700 injuries and $500 million in direct property damage.

The average dollar loss for an intentionally set fire in a residential building is about $21,320, according to fire officials. The fatality rate for intentionally set residential fires is more than twice that of accidental building fires, studies showed.

The USFA offers tips on arson prevention:

* Illuminate exterior and entrances – Lighting all sides of a home with motion-activated lighting can give potential intruders the illusion a resident is home.

* Install burglar and fire alarm systems – Devices can be wired to transmit inexpensively to the local police and fire departments.

* Trim or remove shrubbery that obstructs the view of the house from the street – Make sure nothing blocks the view of the house.

* Keep doors and windows locked and bolted – All external doors should be equipped with dead bolts. A simple lock can deter a house from an arsonist.

* Clean house – Arson is a crime of opportunity. Remove excess vegetation, piles of leaves, trash and other material that could become kindling and fuel a fire for an arsonist.

* Equip homes with smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system – Combination of working smoke detectors and fire sprinklers reduces the likelihood of death by more than 82 percent.

* Establish a community arson watch program – Learn how to establish a community arson watch program. Help local neighbors and publicize community efforts. Arsonists will seldom strike where they know someone is ready for them.

Visit the Parkersburg Fire Department’s website to report on past arsons or learn more about fire safety, www.onlyminutesaway.com.