BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Roughly 17 percent of all fires that happened in Baton Rouge during 2014 were caused by arson, according to the Baton Rouge Fire Department.
Chief Fire Investigator Robert Stewart reports that his agents were called to investigate 293 cases out of the 864 cases worked by the department. Of those, 155 were classified as arson. So far, investigators have made 24 arrests, which is a clearance rate of roughly 15 percent.
The national average for the clearance rate of arson cases is roughly 13 percent. Although the 2014 percentage is only slightly above that average, it's improved greatly over the last five years.
According to Steward, the clearance rate was only 5 percent in 2009. Investigators were called out to investigate 387 cases and roughly 55 percent were ruled arson.
Since then, the Baton Rouge Fire Department worked to turn things around and made great strides during 2013 with a 30 percent clearance rate.
"We have some new investigators working for the division, so we have some fresh blood," Steward explained during a recent interview with WAFB. "It takes a dynamic personality to be a firefighter in the first place, and it takes even more to be a fire investigator."
Proper lighting around your home is the best way to prevent an arsonist from targeting your home or property.
"Most of the time arson is committed in the darkness, at night, because they do not want to be seen," Stewart said. "If you have more light on and around your house, that's going to help keep people away and prevent them from committing all kinds of crimes. The opportunistic criminal is going to look for a dark place to commit a crime."
Preventing a fire from starting is a goal for any fire department. That's why Steward hopes people will take precaution to avoid losing property, or worse, a life.
"There are things people can do around the home to prevent fires," he said. "Avoid placing combustibles too close to space heaters. Pay attention to your stove top. An unattended pot is the number one cause of residential fires. Do not leave candles unattended. The closet for your water heater is not a storage closet. Make sure to use extension cords properly. It's only a temporary appliance."
Seven people died during 2014 as a result of fire. Officials says none of those cases were due to arson.