INDIANAPOLIS - Next week marks the start of National Arson Awareness Week and first responders have made an appeal to the public to join them in the fight against the unique crime that threatens people, property and public safety.
So far this year, 12 people have died in fires around the city, which is the highest number in the past four years. While not all of the fires were deliberately set, arson remains a difficult crime to prove and even more difficult to prosecute.
On April 11, a fire destroyed a home in the 1000 block of Udell Street and damaged both homes on either side.
The fire was ruled an arson, but the person who set the fire remains at large.
Firefighters with the Indianapolis Fire Department have responded to more than 1,000 fires already this year. Investigators have ruled more than ten percent of them arsons, or still undetermined.
Many of the fires, including a fire fatality, have occurred this year in and around the burned-out home on Udell Street.
"Walk around the neighborhood. This is what you get. A lot of empties and unfortunately, we get fires," area resident Randy Brown said.
Experts said the crime of arson has grown progressively worse in recent years. Intentionally set fires scar neighborhoods, cause millions of dollars in property damages, defraud the insurance companies and in the case of the Udell Street fire, the fires can injure firefighters.
Investigators call arson a unique crime, one that seldom leaves behind shell casings, fingerprints and other kinds of forensic evidence. Much of the evidence is lost to the fire. And that's why investigators call citizen cooperation vital to helping solve arson crimes.
"We just want people, even if they have a little information, they can remain anonymous. But they need to share their information to help us help communities like this. So we don't see more of an arson problem anywhere in Marion County," Det. Jim Albin, with the IFD arson unit, said.
The City of Indianapolis has one of the strongest police-fire arson units in the country -- one that is nationally recognized. It solves crime at a rate of 30 percent, nearly twice the national average.
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