Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
Over $15.1 million in losses last year due to arson in vacant and abandoned buildings
Media Contact: LARA Communications 517-373-9280
May 9, 2018 - Governor Rick Snyder has proclaimed May 6-12, as Arson Awareness Week in Michigan to focus public attention on this year’s theme: Reducing Arson at Vacant and Abandoned Buildings. The total dollar loss resulting from these reported arson fires was more than $15.1 million in 2017, with a disproportionate share of firefighter injuries.
“Unsecured vacant and abandoned buildings are a threat to public safety where we often see an increase in criminal activity. Fires in vacant buildings are more likely to be intentionally set and more often spread beyond the building than fires in other structures,” said State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer. “To combat this heinous crime, I urge residents in communities across Michigan to keep a watchful eye on vacant and abandoned properties for suspicious activity and to report it to local fire departments and law enforcement officials. Together, we can reduce arson.”
Last year in Michigan, there were 1,641 total arson fires, resulting in six civilian deaths; 16 civilian injuries; and 13 fire fighter injuries related to reported incendiary arson fires at properties reported as abandoned or vacant. This figure does not include fires reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System as “undetermined cause.”
The Michigan State Police Fire Investigation Unit, the State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire Services, and the Michigan Chapter of the International Association of Arson investigators join together to emphasize on the importance of a cooperative effort with fire and emergency services departments, law enforcement, public works, insurance companies and the justice system to help prevent the horrendous crime of arson at vacant and abandoned buildings.
Keeping unauthorized occupants out of vacant or abandoned building is key to preventing fires. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, communities should take four actions with vacant and abandoned buildings to help prevent fires and other criminal activity. Namely:
Many arsonists scout out locations, looking for easy targets such as garages with open overhead doors and easy access. They admit to enjoying the thrill of seeing the fire, and the power they feel over the fire department response and media coverage. Arsonists typically begin setting fires as a child, experiencing the fascination and excitement with fire, and how it spreads.
Sehlmeyer recalled a serial arsonist who terrorized the cities of Grand Rapids and Kentwood, and later confessed to nine of 11 fires set in vacant buildings and garages between July and October 2010. The arsonist was convicted after a jury trial on all charges filed within Michigan and was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years and maximum of 40 years in prison. Nearly all of the fires were started with a cigarette lighter and available combustibles.
Fire investigators can receive specialized training on abandoned and vacant buildings. The International Association of Arson Investigators’ (IAAI) Certified Fire Investigator Trainer website (cfitrainer.net/) can help. Courses address the characteristics of vacant and abandoned structures and how they contribute to the ways these structures burn; challenges in investigating abandoned and vacant building fires; how to determine property ownership; hazards posed by vacant and abandoned buildings; and conducting safe and successful investigations.
Visit the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/bfs for more fire safety information
For more information about LARA, please visit www.michigan.gov/lara
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