Fire investigators urge residents to become more arson aware

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An estimated 280 people in the United States die each year in fires that were intentionally set, according to the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office.

May 5th through 11th marks National Arson Awareness Week. Fire investigators said the crime has become especially serious in Louisiana.

The view from Flori Lopez's front door includes a charred two-story house. It's a sore sight that's been staring her and her neighbors on Foster Road in the face for more than a month.

"I remember when my little one came out and said, mom I see fire at that house over there. I said, oh my God what happened, because you know there's nobody there," Lopez said.

The house was vacant when someone set fire to it on March 25, 2013. Multiple crews responded to the fire and managed to get it under control in a half hour. But the damage was already done. Fire investigators added the address to a long list of arsons they are already inspecting.

State Fire Marshal Deputy Chief Brant Thompson said residential arsons account for approximately 30 percent of all intentionally set fires in Louisiana.

"It's a very serious crime that affects each and every person that calls Louisiana home, that visits Louisiana, that owns property in Louisiana," Thompson said.

Thompson said 98 percent of the fires they investigate are suspicious. Most of them, he said, happen at blighted properties or vacant homes.

"We're not talking about a misdemeanor crime. We're talking about a very serious crime, a serious felony offense that requires a great deal of technical expertise and a great deal of resources," Thompson said.

Thompson said nearly 50 investigators are assigned to look into an estimated 600 arsons each year. Most of the cases leave deep scars for people like Lopez who witness the aftermath.

"What I would like to see instead of that house is a new house, a family, kids playing," Lopez said.

It's a reality fire investigators said they are working hard to recreate.

Louisiana recently added three accelerant detection canines to its fire investigation team to help in its war on arson.