Coatesville firefighters burned out

January 23, 2009 3:54:46 PM PST
A string of arson fires in Coatesville, Pa. has people there on edge, and that is especially true for the firefighters.It's a mostly volunteer company with only three full time paid firefighters.

"We're having multiple fires, two to three at a time and that's really taxing the fire department," said Assistant Chief Robert Tracey.

Normally, the Coatesville Fire Department has one or two house fires per month. Compare that to the past 23 days, in which they, along with help from neighboring companies, battled 13 arson fires.

"Its very stressful. They're not getting the rest they need, that they would normally get. It takes away from families," said Chief Kevin Johnson.

Arrests were made last year in a fatal blaze, but the fires continued. No one knows how many arsonists may be involved now.

The suspicious blazes began quietly in 2007.

Orginally, the targets were abandoned buildings. Then, the fires started in non-occupied buildings. Now, buildings with people inside area fair game.

Captain Jay Abel say its like a drug addict looking for a bigger and bigger thrill.

"It started with trash cans and now it's escalated to occupied structures," Abel said.

The favorite target now is wood porches, and Coatesville has plenty of them. Firefighters are pleading with residents to remove clutter that could be fuel for a firebug. They're also asking people to install fire detectors, and to keep their eyes open.

"Leave your porch lights on, front and back. Clean porches off, don't use it as a storage area," said Chief Johnson.

For those who think "It can't happen to me," take this advice:

"Drive around and see burned-out shells. It's not far from your house," said fire department member Ron Sigismont.

The reward money increased Friday, and firefighters hope there will be an arrest soon.

"My number one dread is when a firefighter is going to be seriously injured or killed. With the frequency of this, it's not a matter of "if." It's a matter of "when," said Lt. Christopher Smith of the Parkesburg Fire Company.

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