State, county mark Arson Awareness Week through Saturday

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput reminds citizens that this week is Arson Awareness Week in Minnesota.

Orput stresses that arson is not just a property crime; it’s a crime against persons as well, and can devastate whole communities.

In the last 23 years, arson fires in Minnesota caused 56 deaths and more than $333.7 million in property loss. The value of property destroyed in 2011 by arson was estimated at more than $8 million. Minnesotans pay for this through tax dollars and increased insurance premiums.

“Arson not only destroys property, but it kills and injures people every year and threatens the lives of our fire fighters. With it come a palpable far spreading through the community where the arsonist strikes,” Orput said. “Arson is a particularly insidious crime that we all pay for in our auto and home insurance rates.”

Reducing Residential Arson is this year’s Arson Awareness Week theme. Residential properties constituted 65 percent of the reported 318 structure arsons in 2011, where property damage reached more than $5 million.

In 2011, arson was the fourth leading cause of fire in Minnesota. Arson can range from young people misusing fire to a serial arsonist in a community. Citizens can help reduce residential arson by calling the Arson Hotline at 1-800-723-2020 with any information about suspicious fires; getting involved in a neighborhood watch program, and if you have or know of a child with an unusual interest in fire, call the Minnesota State Fire Marshall Division help line at 1-800-500-8897.

“As with any other crime, the first step in combating it is community awareness. If citizens educate themselves about this devastating crime, we will have come a long way towards its elimination,” Orput said.