More than a dozen arson fires have plagued Dayton’s west side this year, causing upwards of $138,000 in property damage. With the majority being found in vacant structures, fire officials are concerned about a possible arson spree.
Since Jan. 1, there have been 26 criminal fires, meaning the fire was either ruled an arson or caused damage or vandalism. Of those, 18 were at vacant structures, and all of were ruled arson. Eleven of those blazes occurred within the past month, raising concerns that with warmer weather could come more fires, said Dayton fire Asst. Chief Michael Caudill.
Investigators don’t believe the fires are being set by the same person, or that there is any one “firebug” on the loose. However, there is sometimes an assumption by fire-setters, Caudill said, that destroying a vacant, dilapidated home by fire can somehow improve the neighborhood. In most cases, it’s more expensive to remediate a home ravaged by fire than one still intact, Caudill said.
And in any structure, there’s a risk someone could have gone inside and could be hurt or killed, or other homes will be damaged, said Andrew Steele, a fire prevention specialist with the Dayton Fire Department.
“We don’t want any fires. We think people who are setting fires are making a mistake,” he said. “They’re impacting the neighborhood in a bad way, they’re putting the citizens at risk, they’re putting firefighters at risk and they’re going to get the neighbors pissed off at them.”
Ted Coapscick said he watched a duplex burn on near his home on Fountain Avenue in two back-to-back fires, both of which were ruled arson. Both homes next to his own are vacant, so he fears what could happen if someone tries to set fire to them next.
“There is no reason to burn them. I mean, they’re good houses if you fix them up,” he said. “I’m sure the city could do something with them, rather than have people burn them down.”
Neighbors are key to combating issues like arson. When someone sets a fire in a vacant home, it can take hours for someone to notice the smoke or flames and call it in, making the fire more dangerous once firefighters get there. Paying attention and calling in suspicious activity can prevent them from ever being set, Caudill said.
Historically, arson has been on a downward trend in Dayton. With so many recorded in the past month, Caudill said the fire department hopes raising awareness about the problem will prevent an unwanted uptick in those numbers for 2014.
“Something like this can bring a whole neighborhood down,” he said. “That’s why prevention is key.”
There is reward money available, up to $5,000, for those who help authorities arrest and convict arsonist. Suspicious activity can be reported anonymously to Dayton police’s tip line at (937) 222-7867 and arson information can be called into Ohio’s tip line at 1-800-637-5735.