Governor Rick Snyder has proclaimed this week, May 5-11, as Arson Awareness Week in Michigan to focus public attention on the costly consequences of residential arson and urge citizens to work together to prevent arson in their communities.
This year's theme is "Reducing Residential Arson."
Property loss due to residential arson fires in Michigan ran more than $10 million in 2012.
"To combat this heinous crime, I urge communities to set up Arson Watch Programs where citizens are partnering with their local fire departments and law enforcement officials, insurance providers, business leaders, churches and local community groups," said State Fire Marshal Rich Miller.
"Together, we can reduce residential arson by educating people on how to spot suspicious activity, who to report it to, and how to set up better security for their homes and businesses inside and out," Miller said in a statement. "Keep a watchful eye on abandoned properties as well."
Last year in Michigan there were 782 residential arson fires resulting in $10,259,385.00 in property loss according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System.
This loss figure does not include indirect costs such as medical care, temporary shelter, business interruption, demolition, fire investigation, prosecution, court proceedings or incarceration.
Miller said residential arson fires can start from youngsters setting nuisance fires to a serial arsonist engaging a full-blown crisis.
There is a wide range of motivation behind residential arson including vandalism, concealing another crime, excitement, or revenge.
According to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the most common motive (41 percent) for a serial arsonist is revenge, targeting the home of someone in retaliation for an actual or perceived injustice.
"Some people do it to collect on insurance - insurance fraud or arson for profit. For others, it's a way to avoid an impending foreclosure," said James LaBuhn, executive director of the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee (MAPC). "Regardless of the reason, residential arson is dangerous, is a criminal activity that results in deaths, injuries and millions of dollars in losses, devastating a community and decreasing property values."
To help safeguard your home, the Michigan Bureau of Fire Services and the MAPC advises:
- Keep yard lights on; set up inexpensive motion-activated lighting near entrances. Put interior lights on timers to give the illusion someone is home.
- Install burglar and fire alarms and a home sprinkler system.
- Keep a clear view of the house from the road by cutting or removing overgrown bushes.
- Keep house and garage doors and windows locked and bolted. Install dead bolt locks to external doors. Install window hardware that has spring-loaded bolts that insert through the window frame into the wall frame.
- Keep occupied and unoccupied property free of trash and debris.
An important way residents can help fight this crime is to report it.
Since 1975, the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee (MAPC) has administered a statewide tip reward program to help put arsonists behind bars.
Funded by insurance companies, the program has paid out $706,000 in rewards since its inception.
It has led to the arrest of 1,135 individuals on arson and related charges during that same time.
The Arson Control subcommittee of the MAPC provides awards of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest and/or conviction of arsonists. Any citizen who has information about an arson or suspicious fire can call toll-free 1-800-44-ARSON (27766).
The U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Incident Reporting System 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 loss each year.
The majority (76 percent) of intentionally set fires in residential buildings occurred in one- or two-family dwellings; an additional 19 percent of fires occurred in multifamily dwellings.
Forty-one percent of the intentionally set residential fires occurred in vacant buildings.
Rubbish and trash, magazines and newspapers; and uncontained flammable liquids or gas were the items most often first ignited in intentionally set fires in residential buildings.