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Arson Awareness Week Puts Spotlight on Cost of Crime

4/24/2001

TALLAHASSEE – Arson costs Floridians an estimated $175 million a year. That's why the State of Florida is willing to pay up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of an arsonist, and up to $25,000 if the arson can be linked to insurance fraud.

A resolution signed today by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet designates this week as Arson Awareness Week.

"It's critical that people understand that arson devastates not only personal lives and property but is detrimental to the economy of the state," State Treasurer and Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher said.

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 7,500 fire scenes, and nearly 2,800 were listed as arson.

The Division of Forestry, within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has primary responsibility for combating wildfires and reports that already this year more than 2,200 wildfires have burned about 170,000 acres in Florida. Division of Forestry investigators suspect more than 600 of this year's wildfires were intentionally set.

"It is beyond comprehension 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 Terry L. Rhodes. "The risk to lives and property is enormous."

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of arsonists. That hotline number is 1-800-342-5869. If an act of arson can also be linked to insurance fraud, a call to the Department of Insurance Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 could be worth up to $25,000.

Arson is the second-leading cause of residential fire deaths in the United States and accounts for approximately 25 percent of all fires in the United States.