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State Fire Marshal’s Office to Host Several Events as Part of National Arson Awareness Week

5/5/2003

CONTACT: Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842


TALLAHASSEE – Investigators with the Division of State Fire Marshal arrested 612 Floridians last year for arson-related crimes. With today's kick-off of National Arson Awareness Week, the public is invited to several events around Florida to learn more about the state's arson investigators and the equipment and techniques they use to solve this costly crime.

The theme of National Arson Awareness Week is "Arson is not a victimless crime."


"Last year, arson fires killed or injured 99 Floridians and destroyed nearly $35 million worth of property," said Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also serves as State Fire Marshal. "No one is untouched by the crime because we all pay for it either through higher property insurance premiums or higher costs for goods and services."

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Forestry has primary responsibility for combating wildfires and reported that this year already more than 167 wildfires are suspected to have been the work of arson.

"Private citizens are a key element in providing information to help law enforcement solve arson crimes," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of Florida's Division of State Fire Marshal responsible for investigating possible criminal activities related to fires and explosions. Last year, the Bureau investigated 2,463 fires classified as having been intentionally set.

This week, the bureau and the Florida Insurance Committee for Arson Control are hosting several events around the state to provide citizens an opportunity to learn more about arson and the investigators who work these cases.

Today in downtown Tampa, state fire and arson investigators, the local K-9 unit and Bomb Squad – which includes a hazardous-duty robot – will be joined by various law enforcement and fire agencies for demonstrations. And in Jacksonville, demonstrations, including display of a mobile arson lab, are planned at the Central Fire Station.

Similar events are planned in Fernandina Beach, Orlando and Daytona and on Tuesday, in Fort Myers, Clay County, Panama City and Bartow on Wednesday, and in Daytona Beach and Ocala on Thursday. There will be several events in Palm Beach County and Plantation on Wednesday and Thursday. For a schedule of events, visit www.fldfs.com.

Also Wednesday at the State Fire and Arson Laboratory near Quincy – one of only three such state labs in the country – will be open for tours from 3 to 6 p.m. The laboratory analyzed evidence and debris from more than 1,700 fire cases last year. The laboratory processes scene samples for law enforcement and fire departments throughout the state, producing as many as 400 rolls of fire scene photos every month with a turnaround time of two weeks or less.

Statewide, the bureau has 105 investigators who are sworn law enforcement officers with full police powers of arrest. There are five accelerant-detection K-9 teams, four Explosive Ordinance Disposal Teams, two computerized voice-stress analysts and 10 crime intelligence analysts. In addition to the main lab in Tallahassee, the bureau has three mobile arson labs.

This year, the bureau enhanced its ability to track serial arsonists through a data-mapping software system that can coordinate information provided by law enforcement and fire departments throughout the state.

Anyone with information relating to a suspected arson is urged to report it to the Division of State Fire Marshal's Hotline, operated in cooperation with the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention, 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 $2,500 is available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of an arsonist, and up to $25,000 is available if the arson can be linked to insurance fraud.