Friday, June 20, 2008

Up In Smoke

The long, hot summer continues:

Thursday night's fire at a vacant house on Clinton Place could well be the 20th arson in the city this year.

And remarkably, a man was found unharmed inside the house almost two hours into the fire.

James Poupore, believed to be about 45, was sleeping either in the basement or first floor when he was found, officials said. He was taken to St. Luke's hospital for observation.

Fire Chief Russell Brooks said the man was not ruled out as a suspect as officials investigate the city's latest suspicious fire.

“This is getting out of hand,” said nearby resident Colleen Lowell as she watched the flames consume the top floor of 17 Clinton Place around 9 p.m. “This is too close to home. I'm getting afraid now.”

Thankfully, no one was injured in the latest apparent arson, but the story could have been a lot different. If firefighters hadn't discovered the sleeping(!) Mr. Poupore odds are we would be reading about the city's fifth arson-related death today. Considering the circumstances of his close escape I'm sure investigators are going to be very interested in how he came to be snoozing inside the vacant home while the upper floors were going up in smoke.

Even more troubling than Mr. Poupore's presence is the disturbing statistic found later in the Observer-Dispatch's story:

Out of 34 fire investigations prior to Thursday, 19 were found to be intentionally set, fire officials said. They said it is uncertain if any of the fires were related.

If fire official's initial evaluation of the Clinton Place fire as arson is correct Utica's arson rate has now soared up to around 60%. That's a stunning number when you consider that in most of the country, and the world at large, arson rates are in the single digits.