Fire officials in Pine Bluff, Ark., say arsons are on the increase and authorities are seeking the public’s help through a new hotline for reporting fire bugs.
On a recent weekend the town had “seven fires and that’s way too many, too close together,” Pine Bluff Fire Department spokesman Shauwn Howell said. “We’re trying to take a pro-active approach and asking the public for help in trying to stop some of them.”
The hotline number is 870-543-5150 and will be answered 24 hours a day, Howell said.
“Of course if somebody sees something that’s happening right then we want them to call 911,” Howell said.
In 2006, Pine Bluff had 101 arson fires. So far this year, the department has fought 122 arsons, Howell said.
A common target for arsons are vacant structures, he said.
“Right now we’re doing some research and trying to determine how many vacant houses there are in each district,” he said. “Once we know that, we can see if any kind of pattern develops.”
A vacant house at 5520 Cheatham St. in the Dollarway area was an example of a structure burned in an arson fire.
“This house burned in October and was boarded up but burned again Saturday (Dec. 15),” Howell said.
Department statistics indicate that 143 fires were reported in November inside the city limits, resulting in damage estimated at $437,000. So far in December 67 fires have been reported, causing another $147,000 in damage. Most of those fires were accidental.
Howell said many of the fires at vacant houses are still under investigation.
Asked about the possibility of homeless people causing the fires in some of the vacant houses, Howell said he didn’t know.
“We have a problem that is common everywhere and that is, when the weather gets colder, homeless people tend to seek shelter and start makeshift fires in barrels and the like to keep warm,” he said. “That’s been documented all over the country and it’s no different in Pine Bluff.”
Information from: Pine Bluff Commercial, www.pbcommercial.com
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