Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Return Of The Long, Hot Summer?

A little over a decade ago Utica attained the dubious distinction of having the highest arson rate in the nation. For weeks on end the news was filled with stories of a strained fire department responding to yet another vacant home going up in flames, with some days seeing multiple blazes across the city. Dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed before a federally funded arson task force, and an aggressive policy of demolishing abandoned buildings, helped bring the epidemic under control.

Those were dark days for the city. That's why the recent spate of arsons, and the implications of a spike in the number of fires breaking out in vacant buildings, is so troubling. Disturbingly, last night saw yet another empty home erupting in flames:

Utica firefighters battled a fire for more than three hours last night at a vacant house at 302 Leah St. in Cornhill.

The initial call came in at 10:16 p.m., and by 10:20 p.m., the building was engulfed with flames as fire crews continued to arrive at the scene, Chief Fire Marshal Raymond Beck said.

“So far, there are no threatened exposures,” Fire Chief Russell Brooks said, referring to nearby houses possibly catching fire.

“Fire marshals are investigating as we speak. Right now, the cause and origin are unknown.”

Emergency radio transmissions reported that a neighbor heard two gunshots just before the fire was reported, but officials at the scene couldn’t confirm if it was gunshots or if it had anything to do with the blaze.

There were no injuries in last night's fire, but investigators are still trying to find the person, or persons, that intentionally set the Whitesboro Street boarding house fire that claimed four lives on April 1st.

We can only hope, and pray, that those four fatalities weren't the start of a trend.

Update: I'm not the only one to notice the upswing in arsons:

Utica firefighters have been kept very busy for the past two weeks, putting out on average a fire every day. And not all of them were accidental.

Utica firefighters have fought 14 fires in as many days, and fire officials say half were set on purpose. Two of them, within four hours of each other Wednesday night.