YOUNGSTOWN Artists call attention to arson

The mayor took part in an unveiling ceremony.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Romaine Ruffley likes to have her commercial arts students do community projects. One covers the door of a fire station. Another overlooks the Market Street Bridge.
Both projects are part of Arson Awareness Week, set up to let people know about the effects purposely set fires have on lives, businesses and property.
Mayor George M. McKelvey was at the Youngstown Fire Department's Station No. 6 on Wednesday to unveil a mural, designed by three students to focus on the dangers of arson.
Another idea: Choffin Career Center students also came up with the idea for a billboard on Market Street that has the word FIRE in red letters to remind motorists that arson is a crime.
"We want it to grab attention. We didn't want a billboard with 50 million words," said Nick Barbush, a junior.
A challenge was incorporating the four windows at the station into the mural, Barbush explained. He, Jaime Morales and Keith Gray used markers to trace their idea onto the door, and several quarts of enamel for the rest. The three worked for a week, with firefighters' support.
Abandoned buildings have been the sites for some of Youngstown's biggest and most dangerous fires. Some have injured and occasionally killed firefighters and others, according to Lt. Alvin Ware, an arson investigator with the Youngstown Fire Department.
Who starts fires: The dilapidated buildings often are used by homeless people and those with mental problems, Ware pointed out. Fires are a problem especially during the winter, when occupants need to cook and stay warm.
Vacant structures also provide shelter for curious teen-agers and gang members, Ware added.
"These buildings are a risk to the houses and people around them," he said.
In response, the city is aggressively boarding up some and tearing down others. Arson is responsible for about 50 percent of Youngstown's structural fires, Fire Chief John O'Neill said.
Ruffley said she wants her classes to better understand what's going on in the community. She praised her students for their projects.
"It's a lot of work, but everyone wins," she said.
Arson Awareness Week runs through Saturday.

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