Behind The Badge: Juveniles Blamed For Starting Several Vacant Home Fires

Fire officials say the youngest suspect they've arrested was just 7-years-old.

ROCKFORD - It's an all too common scene in Rockford, a vacant home or building turned into rubble after a suspicious fire breaks out leaving fire investigators with yet another scene. Fire officials are then tasked to look for evidence, including a possible arson suspect seen in a photo from a nearby camera.

"Things like [a] door here, before the building is torn down, we can see if the building was forced open by someone else, or forced open by us." said Rockford Fire Investigator Tim Morris.

Twenty-three vacant structures burned down this year in the city, compared to this time last year when 22 vacant structures caught fire. It's a troubling statistic, often putting these firefighters unnecessarily in harms way. That's why firefighters will let vacant structures burn down if they're already considered a total loss.

"We allow certain structures to burn safely under a controlled burn in a controlled atmosphere. That way we can keep firefighters safe," Morris says.

The decision may be saving neighbors from an eyesore, but also doing what's best for the department, while trying to be pro-active to keep would-be arsonists at bay.

"We're doing everything we can every single day to not only to investigate what's happening, but try to prevent some fires that happened," says Morris.

More than half of all vacant fires in Rockford are started by juveniles, some as young as 7-years-old, while some are deemed as accidental. Morris says the majority are intentional, leaving fire investigators only a few options for prosecution given their age.  

"We then have an intervention with them and their family. If the family refuses, we have it court mandated otherwise they can be arrested," he says.

Eleven of those vacant fires have been ruled arson, while six of those cases are still active.


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