In 2010, fire departments, nationwide, responded to an estimated 27,100 home structure fires that were intentionally set resulting in 310 deaths, 860 injuries and $551 million in property damage. According to reports by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), home fires account for 60% of all intentional structure fires and is associated with 95% of deaths; a fatality rate more than twice that of other residential fires.
Findings indicate that the majority (76%) of intentionally set fires occur in one- or two-family dwellings. Of those fires, 41% occur in vacant properties. In multi-family dwellings, 19% of fires are intentionally set.
The leading heat source of intentionally set fires that occur in residential buildings are lighters (22%); secondary are open flame or smoking materials (19%) and third are matches (15%). Intentionally set fires often occur between the hours of 3:00 p.m. to midnight and commonly originate in the bedroom with trash, rubbish or waste as the primary ignition.
Like many jurisdictions, the county has experienced its share of arson activity. In 2012, there were 54 reported incidents. This year, as of mid-April, Fire Marshals have investigated 12 incidents involving arson. In an effort to protect property and lives, Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue is seeking the community’s assistance in reducing the occurrence of arson and its devastating effect.
May 5th – 11th is National Arson Awareness Week. This year’s goal is to provide residents with strategies to combat arson in their neighborhoods. Arson is a criminal activity that affects an entire community not just a select few. Arson robs communities of its valuable assets, lives and property. Arson destroys more than buildings; it can devastate a community resulting in the decline of the neighborhood through increased insurance premiums, loss of business revenue, and a decrease in property values. However, there are measures that can be implemented to safeguard communities; being aware of those measures provides residents with the tools necessary in reducing those incidents.
Illuminate Exterior and Entrances
- Install lights covering all sides of the house. Motion-activated lighting should be placed near the entrances. Interior lights on timers give the illusion that a residence is occupied.
- Trim or remove shrubbery that blocks the view of the house from the street. During the growing season, bushes and trees may need to be trimmed frequently.
Install Burglar and Fire Alarm Systems
- Alarm devices can be inexpensively wired to transmit an alarm to the police or fire department. Check the cost of contracting with a security firm for response to alarms.
Install Smoke Alarms and a Fire Sprinkler System
- The combination of working smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers reduces the likelihood of death from fire by more than 82 percent. The most effective fire loss prevention and reduction measure for both life and property is the installation and maintenance of fire sprinklers.
Keep Doors and Windows Locked
- All external doors should be equipped with dead bolts. A simple locked door could be the deterrent that saves a house from arson. The hardware used to lock windows can sometimes be easily forced open using a credit card or other tool. The best type of window hardware has spring-loaded bolts that insert through the window frame into the wall frame.
- Oftentimes, arson is a crime of opportunity. 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 for an arsonist.
Clean Up Vacant Homes
- Secure abandoned and vacant homes, which are potential arson targets. This may include adding additional locks or boarding up broken windows or other openings with plywood. Remove abandoned vehicles. Most car fires are started to cover up other criminal activity or simply as an act of vandalism.
- Communicate with the owner that authorities are concerned about the vacant home and explain why.
- Contact public works to disconnect all utilities at the street. This includes natural gas, water and electricity. If there are liquefied petroleum gas tanks, they should be disconnected and removed.
Start a Neighborhood Watch Program
- Encourage members to patrol these areas and write down descriptions, license plates of suspicious vehicles, and potential suspect descriptions.