MCFRS News Release
Arson Awareness Week - May 7-13, 2006
''Wildfire Arson – Preparedness and Prevention''
The theme for this year's national Arson Awareness Week is “Wildfire Arson – Preparedness and Prevention”. Arson and other uncontrolled wildland fires pose a serious threat to lives, property, and natural resources in our rural and suburban communities. Conditions are particularly hazardous in the wildland-urban interface, where structures and other human developments meet or intermingle with forests and grasslands.
Recently in Montgomery County several wildland fires have kept firefighters busy and have destroyed dozens of acres of fields, woodland and forests, as well as a few structures. In February, March and April of this year Fire Investigators believe several large and time-consuming fires in the Lake Needwood area near the 6700 block of Needwood Road, in Derwood; a few in the 8700 block of Snouffer School Road, in Gaithersburg; and a couple more in the vicinity of Great Seneca Park near the Blunt Road, Watkins Meadow Drive and Watkins Mill Road were deliberately set.
Numerous fires in these areas were considered incendiary in nature or arson. Extremely dry conditions, wind and other weather conditions contributed to the rapid spread. In all, more than 20 acres was burned and took hundreds of hours to extinguish. In addition these fires collectively required the use of many resources, including on several occasions a specially trained group of wildland firefighters from Frederick County and a team from the State of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Forestry Service.
Nationally, the damage associated with wildland arson, acreage and dollar losses is more than all other causes associated with wildland fires. The increased risk of wildland fires, associated with the rapid development of structures in the wildland-urban interface, makes it all that more important to develop arson prevention and preparedness programs. Preventing, mitigating and preparing for wildland arson are important steps in protecting lives, minimizing property loss and providing for firefighter safety.
And to do all of these things requires an effort by property owners, fire service organizations and local business and government leaders. Penalties for arson could lead to 30 years in prison and $50,000 in fines. As is often the case with arson, due to recklessly putting others in harm, additional charges, such as attempted murder and reckless endangerment can be initiated.
We ask that everyone be vigilant and report any and all suspicious activities.
If you know or suspect that an arson crime has been committed, contact the ARSON Tip line at 240-777-2263 or call your local fire or police department.
Montgomery County Active and Cold Cases –
- Multiple set fires in the 700 block of Twinbrook Parkway. Fires involved trash, rubbish, playground equipment and vehicles. Most fires occurred at night or early in the morning. Several vehicles were set on fire on March 5, 2006. There were several fires on February 27, 2006 and another vehicle was set on fire on March 20, 2006. Others in the area also may be related. Most of the fires occurred near the Montgomery County Board of Elections building.
- Around 9:20 p.m., Sunday, April 16, 2006 units were dispatched to the area of Rockville Pike and Montrose Road for the report of a bus on fire. First arriving firefighters encountered several school busses in the parking lot of Mid Pike Plaza on fire. Approximately two dozen school busses used by the French International School of Bethesda were parked nearby. Several were on fire. Fire Investigators believe a fire was intentionally set in one of the busses. The fire is suspicious in nature. There was some vandalism also noted in other busses nearby. Three busses received significant damage and have been rendered inoperable. Another bus was damaged by radiant heat. Damage is estimated to be approximately $150,000.
- On April 28, 2005 around 5:30 a.m. firefighters were called to the Diamond Elementary School, located at 4 Marquis Drive, in Gaithersburg. An intentionally set fire damaged and consumed the entire set of playground equipment. This was the second attempt. Damage is estimated to be over $30,000.
- On May 6, 2001, at approximately 9:30 p.m. a fire was reported at 7401 Hadley Farms Drive, in Gaithersburg. The property, Phoenix II School, was used by the Montgomery County Public School System for students with special needs. Fire Investigators determined the fire was purposely set in the rear of the school building. This act of arson displaced over 45 students, totally destroyed the building and caused over $1 million dollars in damage. This case is “open”, but inactive (cold).
Steps that can be taken to reduce the incidents of arson:
- If you suspect a child is setting fires notify the proper authorities, it may not be ''just a phase'' they are going through. Keep matches and lighters out of reach and out of sight of young children. Contact Operation Extinguish at 240-777-2448.
- Report suspicious activity near schools, houses or other buildings to the local police and support Neighborhood Watch programs.
- Keep leaves, firewood, overgrown brush and shrubbery and other combustibles away from buildings. Most arson fires are started outdoors. Don't make it easy for an arsonist to start a fire or easy for an outdoor fire to spread to a building.
- Keep doors and windows locked when a building is unoccupied. But don't use double cylinder deadbolt locks without keeping a key nearby, bars without quick release mechanisms, or other security provisions that could trap a person in a building with a deadly fire. Have a fire alarm system, functional smoke alarms and/or a fire sprinkler system.
Fire Investigators are asking anyone with information concerning the cases mentioned above to contact the Montgomery County ARSON Tip Line at 240-777-2263.