Arson at Macon apartments reinforces need for tips

lfabian@macon.comMay 2, 2014 

Arson fliers are posted around two burned buildings at Kenilworth Manor, the former Crystal Lake Apartments in west Macon off Chambers Road.

Macon-Bibb County firefighters were called to the sprawling complex about 2 a.m. Friday and found two vacant buildings on fire.

No utilities were running to the unoccupied structures, and Arson Investigator Sgt. Ben Gleaton determined the apartments were deliberately set ablaze.

Several fire crews fought the flames and one fire engine company stayed to guard against flare-ups.

A two-story building, which houses units 1405 to 1408, was gutted in the center section from the bottom crawl space through the attic of the cluster of apartments beside the lake.

A separate building next to it had melted siding hanging down in the stairwell, but firefighters beat back the flames before they could do much damage inside, Gleaton said.

After sunrise, Gleaton returned to the scene to gather more evidence to build a case against whoever set fire to the building.

Proving arson can be a daunting task unless people come forward.

Anyone with information is urged to call Macon Regional CrimeStoppers at 877-68-CRIME, or the Georgia Arson Hotline at 800-282-5804.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens wants Georgians to personally get involved and is promoting National Arson Awareness Week, which begins Sunday.

“Arson is a difficult crime to prosecute,” Hudgens stated in a news release. “In many cases, investigators rely on evidence provided by witnesses to convict an arsonist.”

The week’s observance will focus on vehicle arsons, which account for 26.5 percent of annual arsons reported across the country.

Annually nationwide, $169 million in damages results from an average of 14,737 deliberately set vehicle fires in each of the past 10 years, according to the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2013, a total of 5,680 vehicle fires were reported in Georgia.

While most of the investigations are conducted by local firefighters, the state fire investigation unit handled 37 vehicle arsons resulting in more than $400,000 in property damage.

Only six arrests were made.

Bibb County saw 194 vehicle fires last year, compared to 120 structure fires.

Gleaton said 70 percent of the vehicle fires were suspicious and likely arson, but can be nearly impossible to prove.

“Everything you look for, ignitable liquids, are in a vehicle,” he said. “Unless I can actually, definitively say this is a set fire, I can’t call it an arson.”

Deliberately set fires not only endanger firefighters, but result in higher insurance premiums for customers through no fault of their own.

Rewards of up to $10,000 are given for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of an arsonist.

Since 1979, Georgia’s Arson Control Program distributed more than 450 rewards totaling more than $1.6 million.

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