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Archive for Saturday, May 2, 1998

COWARDLY ARSONISTS

May 2, 1998

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It is well to have a special period designed to cut down on the more than 500,000 set fires that our nation is subjected to each year.

Many crimes reflect cowardice by the perpetrators, but easily one of the most disgusting is arson -- whether it be in an apartment house, a dormitory, public building or private home. And in recent years, Lawrence and Douglas County have seen examples of all of these. Incredibly, the death and injury tolls have not been much higher.

National Arson Awareness Week runs May 3-9. It is well to emphasize in this period, as well as every day, that last year, some 500,000 arson cases were confirmed in the United States. They claimed more than 500 lives and caused destruction of more than $3 billion in property. Bear in mind that these are confirmed fires that were set for devious reasons. There are sure to have been many more nobody could pin down.

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, heads up the federal National Arson Prevention Initiative. He stresses that in many instances, arson is preventable. The fact that one in four major fires anymore are ``set'' calls for greater alertness and education about how to deal with the ghastly issue.

``To target arson and extinguish the fires,'' we have to focus on the core of the problem, and that's troubled kids,'' says Witt. ``Just like the firefighters who risk their lives to douse the flames, none of us can escape the responsibility of fighting this deadly and destructive crime. We need more partnerships in neighborhoods to board up abandoned buildings, clean up litter and debris, conduct arson prevention training programs and draw in people to keep an eye on suspicious activities. There are many other sources, but youngsters are among the most salient.''

Arson entails a human being or beings consciously focused on destroying a home, car, church, business and fellow human beings. Coping with such menaces takes the cooperation of every law-abiding citizen and group.

Then there must be swift and stern penalties for the guilty parties. Anyone who lights a fire in a university dormitory, a crowded apartment building or a private home should be dealt with harshly and put where there will be no chance for repetition.

It is sad that America needs a National Arson Awareness Week. It has not always been this way. But as long as such an occasion is necessitated by cowardly, evil people, we all should take full advantage of what the period can teach us about protecting ourselves and our property -- and punishing those who would burn us out.

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