Officials want help fighting arson

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, April 30, 2011

During National Arson Awareness Week, May 1-7, State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl wants to focus public attention on a crime that is too often dismissed as victimless or impossible to control. “Arson takes lives, destroys possessions and paralyzes communities with fear,” he says. “It may be an act of revenge, cruelty, fraud or delinquency — but it’s always a criminal act. And we all pay for it; our home and vehicle insurance rates reflect the cost of arson.”

In Minnesota, 1,268 arson fires were reported in 2009. They included 330 structure fires and 159 vehicle fires, with a total dollar loss of more than $6 million. Figures reported to the State Fire Marshal by local fire departments show that only six of Minnesota’s 87 counties experienced no arson fires that year. Since 1989, arson fires in our state have caused at least 53 deaths and more than $318 million in property destruction.

The crime of arson is usually identified by investigators, but too often, the criminal is not. It can take a community to catch an arsonist, and that’s one reason for Arson Awareness Week. People who are watchful and know the facts on arson can

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help prevent it or help apprehend arsonists.

The State Fire Marshal advises citizens who know of, or suspect an act of arson to call their fire or police department. Report suspicious activity near houses or buildings, and participate in Neighborhood Watch groups. In addition,

• Don’t allow leaves, firewood or other combustibles to remain near buildings. They make arson easy for vandals and cause flames to spread rapidly.

• Keep doors and windows of unoccupied buildings locked. Keep the keys handy. If necessary, board the building up.

• Illuminate the exterior of buildings at night and keep commercial dumpsters at least five feet from building walls.

“Never be afraid to make use of the Minnesota Arson Hotline,” Rosendahl says. “It exists to help stop arson, and your call may be anonymous if you feel that’s best.” The Arson Hotline number is 800-723-2020.