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Flint, MI– The Flint Fire Department is actively working with Michigan State Police and Flint Police to catch an arsonist on the east side of Flint.
Fire Chief Raymond Barton said that in November, there were more than 10 fires at vacant structures all in the same vicinity, in the area of Franklin Ave and Dort Highway, and Stewart Ave and Davison Rd.
MSP have handled all fire investigations for the City of Flint for the last five years, and Barton said they have been investigating the areas of recent fires as well.
Residents have given some tips so far that Barton said the police are investigating. Through their investigations and interviews with community members, Barton said they suspect the fires are the result of arson.
The city is asking that anyone with information call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-422-JAIL, which is anonymous.
“These fires leave scars on our community. Burning a vacant building is not a victimless crime. Neighbors do not deserve to have to live next to these hollowed out buildings and fear a fire could spread to their homes,” Mayor Sheldon Neeley said. “I urge all residents to be vigilant in reporting suspicious activity and tips to help us catch these criminals.”
Barton said if residents see a fire, they should call 911 and try to get as much information from the scene as they can, like the type of car they were driving, the license plate, and a description of what the person looks like.
“Arsonists get caught through the community,” Barton said. “It really takes the help of the residents.”
He is also encouraging residents to leave their porch lights on to make it look like people are home, and to pay attention to unfamiliar cars driving around in the area.
Although Barton said this recent spike in suspicious fires is not nearly as bad as the spike in arsons across the city from 2008 to 2012, “arsons are always a concern.”
He said fires have a way of spreading to nearby structures, especially in urban areas where houses are closer together. He also said it’s a problem for residents with respiratory issues, now exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For some of the same reasons that it can be difficult to catch an arsonist, Barton said it is difficult to prove a fire is an arson.
One reason is that any evidence is often destroyed in the fire.
The fire department can only declare a fire as suspicious. To declare arson, there must be a police report, which can be challenging with no evidence at the scene.
On top of that, MSP serves multiple communities, so they cannot always get to Flint fires quickly enough to determine whether the fire was arson or not. So although there are suspicious fires that might have been arson, there isn’t always someone there to declare them as such.
For those reasons, “the numbers get skewed a little bit,” Barton said.
But there is work being done to bring more arson investigators into Flint.
Barton said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is supplying funding for a dedicated MSP arson investigator to be stationed in Flint, so there will be someone on hand right away.
Additionally, after working with Flint Police Chief Terence Green, Barton said the Flint Police Department will be sending officers who were former firefighters to become arson investigators.