Waging War against Arson

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 11, 1997 | Go to article overview

Waging War against Arson


In the wake of the church fires last summer, President Clinton asked me to lead a National Arson Prevention Initiative. He wanted to focus the efforts and the resources of the Federal government on supporting community-based activities to prevent arson.

The initiative the president implemented was national in scope - not regional, and not focused on houses of worship exclusively. This effort represents the commitment by numerous Federal agencies, governments at all levels, the private sector, and the voluntary community to greatly reduce the 750 fatalities and over $2 billion in losses caused by arson in this country every year. National Arson Awareness Week, which began May 4 and ran through Saturday, May 10 is the culmination of this initiative. In a very real sense, it marks the first anniversary of an unprecedented crusade to combat a national problem that far too often maims and kills and can destroy the fabric of our communities. The theme of this week is "Target Arson," and each community should ask themselves what they are doing in the fight against arson.

Arson is preventable. What is disturbing is that one out of every four fires is intentionally set. That means that someone - a fellow human being - consciously decides for whatever reason to destroy a home, a car, a house of worship, or a business. And in that moment they have attacked the lives, the livelihoods, and the spirit of a community.

Arson is a national problem, but it is fundamentally a local problem. This war - like most wars - must be won in the trenches. Local fire and police departments are well-trained and ready to mount heroic efforts. But when the doors of the fire station go up to respond, you have already lost the battle to prevent that fire from happening. In the end, the real responsibility for stopping arson lies with the community - with students, teachers, business leaders, parents, the clergy, and civic organizations.

Arson does affect everyone - and every taxpayer should be vitally concerned about arson's destructive and deadly toll. Think of the cost of rolling out fire trucks to deal with a toilet paper fire at a school. Consider that teenagers account for more than 55 percent of all deliberately set blazes, and if you include youth 20 years and younger that figure climbs to 61. …

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