State and local fire and emergency service departments, as well as law enforcement agencies, will join forces May 5-11 for Arson Awareness Week. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has dedicated this year’s campaign to the theme of reducing residential arson.
“Arson destroys more than buildings. It can devastate a community through the decline of the neighborhood with increased insurance premiums, loss of business revenue and a decrease in property values,” State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak said. “The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office is dedicated to bringing attention to the problem and working to make Tennessee safer.”
The USFA reports an estimated 16,800 intentionally set fires in residential buildings occur annually in the United States. These fires result in an estimated 280 deaths, 775 injuries and $593 million in property losses each year. The average dollar loss for an intentionally set fire in a residential building is $21,320. The fatality rate for intentionally set residential fires is more than twice that of other residential building fires. Rubbish, trash and waste; magazines, newspapers and writing paper; and uncontained flammable liquids or gas were the items most often first ignited in intentionally set fires in residential buildings.
Residential arsons also contribute to a large percentage of fires in Tennessee. State Fire Marshal’s Office data from the Tennessee Fire Incident Reporting System (TFIRS) show that:
- From 2008-2012, there were 2,382 residential structure fires in Tennessee caused by arson. These fires contributed to 19 deaths and 114 injuries.
- In 2012, there were 434 residential structure fires in Tennessee caused by arson.
- For the past five years, Tennessee has averaged 476 residential arson fires a year.
The goal for this year’s Arson Awareness Week is to provide all residents with strategies to combat arson in their neighborhoods. The public can be engaged by implementing neighborhood cleanups along with improving internal and external security for their homes and abandoned properties using the following measures from the USFA:
- Install smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system. Using operable smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers reduces the likelihood of death from fire by more than 82 percent.
- Keep doors and windows locked. All external doors should be equipped with deadbolts. A locked door could be the deterrent that saves a house from arson. The best windows have spring-loaded bolts that insert through the window frame into the wall frame.
- Clean house. Remove excess vegetation and piles of leaves. Clean around your house and garage, removing unused and unneeded paper, trash, cleaning supplies, partial cans of paint and other materials that could become kindling and fuel a fire.
- Clean up vacant homes. Work with local authorities to secure abandoned and vacant homes, which are potential arson targets. This may include boarding up broken windows or other openings with plywood and removing abandoned vehicles. Encourage Neighborhood Watch members to patrol these areas and write down descriptions and the license plates of suspicious vehicles, as well as descriptions of suspicious strangers.
Arson awareness displays will be held in the locations listed below. The displays will be hosted by the State Fire Marshal Office, in conjunction with local sheriffs’ offices, and local fire service and police departments. Information materials for both children and adults will be available, and officers (including a canine team) will be on hand to answer questions and to demonstrate special equipment.
Tuesday, May 7
Sweetwater Fire Department
255 E. Highway 322
Sweetwater, TN 37874
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Wednesday, May 8
Bolivar Fire Department
210 West Jackson Street
Bolivar, TN 38008
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Wednesday, May 8
Wal-Mart Super Center
2130 N. Locust Avenue
Lawrenceburg, TN 38464
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Tennesseans with tips to assist arson investigations should call the State Arson Hotline, 1-800-762-3017. The Arson Hotline is a phone line dedicated to receiving information about suspicious and incendiary fires. It is answered 24 hours a day, and you may remain anonymous when providing information. Cash rewards are offered for information leading to an arrest or conviction.