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Our View...Fight fire with fire

Arson is suspected to be the cause of a fire last Wednesday in West Duluth that forced a mother and her young son to flee their home. The fire, reported at 1:43 a.m., triggered the home's smoke detectors, which awakened the 4-year-old boy, who in...

Arson is suspected to be the cause of a fire last Wednesday in West Duluth that forced a mother and her young son to flee their home. The fire, reported at 1:43 a.m., triggered the home's smoke detectors, which awakened the 4-year-old boy, who in turn alerted his sleeping mother. The two escaped unharmed, but the potential for tragedy was imminent -- and all too real.

A house fire is tragic no matter when it occurs, but when that fire was intentionally set, it is not only senseless but all that much more insidious.

In 2012, the Cloquet Area Fire District reported that eight local fires were suspected as arson. There's been one more so far this year. That's a staggering number, particularly when you consider not only property loss but the potential for lives lost as well.

Arson is a problem that fire departments and law enforcement take dead seriously, and every effort is taken to track down the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Sadly, however, arson is a difficult crime to prove.

It's unlikely that most of us realize there are certain steps we can take to actually help prevent arson in our homes or businesses. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) has declared next week as Arson Awareness Week and to that end, they have made it their goal to provide the public with strategies to actually combat arson in their neighborhoods.

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Just as Neighborhood Crime Watches have become effective in warding off many types of residential crimes, neighborhood clean-ups can be effective in preventing some types of arson through clearing obstructions such as thick shrubbery that block the view of the house from the street; removing excess vegetation or piles of leaves as well as paper, trash, partial cans of paint or other materials that could become kindling and fuel a fire for an arsonist; and securing abandoned or vacant homes that could become a target for arsonists. Such a group of neighborhood members can also work at building relationships with fire and emergency personnel and law enforcement agencies, so suspicious activity around a house or other structure can be noted and reported as swiftly as possible.

Individual homeowners can do their part in deterring potential arsonists by illuminating the exteriors and entrances to their homes, installing smoke alarms and sprinkler systems and keeping their doors and windows locked.

Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Kevin Schroeder said the CAFD is doing its part as well -- after three or four years without an arson detection dog on staff, the department recently received grant funding to acquire and train a new dog. The CAFD's Jason Maki is currently in Maine for a month-long intensive training session with the new dog, Wish, a yellow Labrador retriever. The two are expected to be back in Cloquet and on the job by May 11.

Let's do our part in keeping arson from being a crime of opportunity by keeping our homes as safe and secure as possible. Don't let yourself be victimized if there's any way you can discourage a potential arsonist. It is, after all, a matter of fighting fire with fire.

Wendy Johnson

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