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Cost of Arson: $41 Million in Florida Last Year

5/6/2002

TALLAHASSEE - Florida Treasurer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher today said he hopes Arson Awareness Week, May 5-11, will serve to remind Floridians that the act of intentionally setting fires costs us all more than we may realize.

"Arson costs people their lives, their homes and family treasures - and it costs the taxpayers who foot the bill to fight fires set by arsonists and investigate them," Gallagher said. "Arson is anything but a victimless crime."

There was a 36.5-percent increase in arson-related deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2000.

In Florida, 140 civilians were killed or injured due to arson in 2001, and $41 million worth of property was destroyed. The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, within the Division of State Fire Marshal, assists local governments and law enforcement agencies in investigating suspicious fires. Last year, the bureau was called to more than 6,900 fires, and almost 2,700 were deemed suspicious - more than 38 percent.

The Division of Forestry, within the Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services, has primary responsibility for combating wildfires and reports that already this year more than 1,400 wildfires have burned 15,250 acres in Florida. Division of Forestry investigators suspect more than 234 of this year's wildfires, about 20 percent, were intentionally set.

"It is just incredible to us how people can intentionally set fires that risk the lives of not only our firefighters but the general public as well, but we know it is happening," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson. "The risk to lives and property is enormous."

Vehicular arson is a particular problem in Florida, and a coalition of law enforcement and fire departments is working to fight it. Last month the Office of State Fire Marshal used a sting operation to arrest a serial arsonist-for-hire whose specialty was burning vehicles on contract for insurance settlement money. Nationally, there were 46,500 vehicle fires due to arson in 2000, for a total of $186 million in property damage.

"Private citizens are a key element in providing information to help law enforcement solve arson crimes," he said.

Anyone with information relating to a suspected arson is urged to report it to the Division of State Fire Marshal's Hotline at 1-877-NOARSON (1-877-662-7766). Suspicious wildfires should be reported to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-800-342-5869. A reward of up to $10,000 is available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of arsonists, and up to $25,000 is available if the arson can be linked to insurance fraud.


NOTE TO TV MEDIA: Visit www.fldfs.com to preview a video news release on the activities of the State Fire Marshal's Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. You will find the VNR by clicking on Arson Awareness Week. For a Beta or VHS copy, call 850-413-2842.