Arsons ignite dangers for firefighters, chief says

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


Fire Chief John O’Neill stood outside 620 Almyra Ave. on Thursday morning watching the 12th vacant building burn in less than 24 hours and weary firefighters from his department trying to contain the blaze.

O’Neill said the department did an outstanding job handling the rash of arson calls but that the public — especially those responsible for starting the fires — needs to understand the dangers random arsons pose for firefighters and the community.

“We have to go into these buildings. We don’t know if they have vagrants in them or what, so we have to try and get in them to see what is going on. You also have the people and neighboring houses that can sustain damage,” said O’Neill.

Firefighters entering these burning structures can face a variety of dangers, he said.

Battalion Chief Gary DiTullio said this rash of arsons between Wednesday and Thursday left one firefighter with minor injuries to his foot.

O’Neill said the arsons also pose a threat to those in the community and leave the area with more blight than just the burned structure.

The Almyra Avenue fire caused considerable damage to the adjacent house, which serves as a day-care facility for several children, with melted siding and a few shattered windows.

Firefighters battling the blaze knocked down charred wood and removed debris such as old tires from inside the vacant house.

Michael Burke, who lives nearby, said the debris from the house will pose a problem for children and others in the neighborhood.

“They have about 10 kids inside the day care so how are they and other kids around here going to be able to play with all that stuff around?” said Burke. “This [burned house] was kind of like a neighborhood house. We all cut the grass, sit on the porch and sometimes have cookouts for the kids and everything.”

A man, who did not wish to be named, owns property next to a vacant house on Myrtle Avenue that went up in flames early Thursday. He spent the day repairing melted siding and broken windows at his home. By daylight all that remained of the duplex next to his property were two sets of concrete steps that once led to the front doors.

The homeowner said he is not overly upset about the damage to his property.

“We were already working on the house so I am not really mad about what happened. I am just glad the house is still standing,” he said. “If they would tear some of these houses down, it would not give these people a chance to do something like this.”

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