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Archive for Sunday, January 12, 1992

ARSONISTS RESPONSIBLE FOR 24 FIRES IN 1991

January 12, 1992

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Lawrence firefighters extinguished fewer intentionally set fires last year than in 1990, but statistics show that arson is growing as a cause of fires locally.

According to statistics from the Lawrence Fire Department's Fire Investigation Bureau, 24 fires extinguished by the department were arson-related in 1991, down from the 32 intentionally set fires extinguished in 1990.

But the percentage of fires that are ruled arson continues to grow. In 1989, 22 percent of all fires extinguished by the Lawrence Fire Department were the result of arson. In 1990, 43 percent were arson-related. And in 1991, 45 percent of the fires were purposely set.

Rich Barr, Lawrence fire marshal, said he doesn't know why the percentage of arson fires has increased over the past three years, but he says the percentage hasn't consistently risen during the past decade.

FOR EXAMPLE, in 1983, 58 percent of the fires reported to the department were purposely set. The next year, only 39 percent of the fires could be attributed to arsonists.

Arson losses fluctuate as much as arson percentages from year to year. In 1989, property valued at $232,050 was lost in arson fires. In 1990 the figure was $61,000. 1991 figures were not available.

Barr said he could not link the growth of arson fires to a single factor. He hesitated to point to the poor economy, which often is blamed for an increase in overall crime.

Historically, insurance fraud and revenge are high on the list arson motives.

Barr said he has investigated a building that was torched by a property owner trying to to collect insurance money, for instance.

"That's why so many insurance companies have their own fire investigators," he said.

BARR SAID firefighters and insurance companies must go through sophisticated training sessions, sometimes frequently, so they can locate the origin of the fire and determine how a fire began or who started the blaze.

In 1991, none of the arsons appeared to have been the result of an insurance-collecting scheme, he said.

In some arsons, he said, there is no clear motive.

Barr said investigators have uncovered no motive for fires allegedly set in September by Glen Snodgrass, 38, 712 Ark., to bathrooms in the E-Z Shop convenience store, 1414 W. Sixth, and at the Easy Wash Laundry, 1215 W. Sixth.

Snodgrass was charged with felony counts of arson and aggravated arson. A trial is scheduled for March 16.

IN 1991, seven people were arrested, charged with arson or convicted of arson, Barr said. That number is down from 1990, when 11 people were linked to arson fires. However, firefighters were more successful in solving arson cases last year than in 1990. Four cases remained unsolved in 1991; in 1990, 21 cases were left open.

Barr said that sometimes a suspect may be linked to cases that have been termed "unsolved" or "open," but that not enough circumstantial evidence is available for charges to be filed against an individual.

Last year was typical, Barr said, in that most arsons occurred either late at night or during the early morning hours when the arsonist is less likely to be seen.

"Most of the time it's at night because people usually want to get away from the scene without being seen," he said.

Most arsons in 1991 and in 1990 ocurred in September. In each year, eight reports of purposely set fires were filed in September.

Barr said he doesn't know why arson increases in September. He does not point the finger at students returning for the fall semester at Kansas University and Haskell Indian Junior College. However, he said, with an increase in population, there is an increase in crime.

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