Chief: Arson is not the answer to blight

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Was a Sunday morning arson on Youngstown’s east side someone’s way of dealing with urban blight?

All that is left of the vacant home on Bryn Mar Drive, just off McGuffey Road, is a brick wall. Pastor Lewis Macklin, who lives next door, awoke to sirens from fire trucks racing to the scene. He took pictures with his cell phone as cinders from the fire fell dangerously close to his home.

Macklin said that while no one was hurt and what is left of the house will be leveled, he is worried that whoever is responsible for the fire is taking some very big risks.

“I really implore people to really think about the fact they are placing people’s lives at risk when they do these arson burns. It may be their intent to improve the environment or community, but the reality is they are actually placing a lot of people at risk and danger,” Macklin said.

Already this year, the city has seen 63 houses torched, including a half dozen that involved occupied structures. That compares to 93 for all of 2013.

Youngstown fire investigators said anyone thinking arson involving vacant and abandoned building are “victimless” crimes could not be more wrong. In Sunday’s fire, a neighboring garage sustained some heat damage.

And investigators said that collateral damage could become a problem for those living near homes that are torched who don’t have insurance to cover their own damage.

“And what we see a lot of times is people will walk away from those homes too and it just compounds our problem. Now we have another vacant home, not just the house that burned, but also the one that got damaged a little bit but the people can’t afford to repair,” Youngstown Fire Chief John O’Neill said.

He said that not only leads to more blight, but also creates an increased risk for firefighters. O’Neill said one-half to two-thirds of firefighter injuries occur while battling vacant house fires or unoccupied homes.

In addition, fires like the one on Sunday morning ultimately will impact even those whose homes are in other neighborhoods.

“For your home owner’s insurance, they look at the city’s index and see those factors and base those rates on those factors. So it’s not saving me money. It is costing me,” Macklin said.

Youngstown has the highest per capita arson rate nationwide, according to statistics released in 2013.

Investigators said they will go after arson suspects if they can find them, but they need the public’s help to provide the needed information.

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