Monday, July 04, 2011

Serial Arsonist May Be On The Loose In Juneau, Alaska; Crow Hill Fire The Latest Of 18 Suspicious Fires In Just Two Months

In Detroit, 18 suspicious fires can take place in just one night; it's considered a recreational activity in that city. But in Juneau, Alaska, a city of only 31,000, 18 suspicious fires within a two-month period is the earmark of a possible serial arsonist at work.

The Juneau Empire reports that the fire which consumed a carport and six vehicles at the Crow Hill Condominium complex at 12:30 A.M. on Friday July 1st, 2011 is of suspicious origin, and that it's the 18th suspicious fire which has taken place in Juneau during the last two months. Capital City Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Dan Jager hasn't suggested the existence of a serial arsonist yet, though. “They [the fires] are all different sizes,” Jager said. “They run the gamut. At this time we can’t relate them to one individual but we are piecing it together with the police department as far as finding similarities. Both agencies are looking at stuff.”

But it is difficult to believe that 18 different people set 18 different fires in a city as small as Juneau in just two months. There are also a series of photos of the fire scene included in this other Empire story.

From some of the descriptions of the Crow Hill fire, it is a miracle it did not spread beyond the carport into the neighboring condos. One person who lives directly across the street described the fire as a huge orange fireball with flames as high as 25 feet and said she could feel the heat inside her apartment. Another person living in a building adjacent to the carport noticed that the leaves of a tree had burned and her window caulking softened; the person believes that if the fire department response had been five minutes later, the building would have caught fire. The sloping hillside could have also led to leaking fuel from the burning vehicles flowing and igniting multiple residences. From all accounts, firefighters did an excellent job in combating and extinguishing the fire. It was not without human cost, though; one first responder was sent to Bartlett Regional Hospital for breathing problems, but later released. A Honda SUV, Ford pickup, Ford Mustang, Toyota 2-door pickup, an older Subaru, and a new Subaru Forester were totaled, along with the carport itself; total damage is estimated at $150,000. It took roughly 10-15 minutes to extinguish the blaze after a hookup to water was established.

Juneau Police Sgt. Paul Hatch assures the community it's one of their highest priorities. “Follow up is happening as we speak,” Sgt. Hatch said. “We’ve assigned it to investigators and it is being actively investigated. No suspects at this point, but based on the fire marshal’s determination we believe it is arson.”

In response to some criticism directed towards Juneau first responders, one person posted this informative comment, while another person favorably compared JPD with the Anchorage Police Department:

By fireguy | 07/03/11 - 02:07 pm:
Awesome opportunity to slam JPD on this story. They are assisting the fire department investigator with interviews and talking to witnesses.

All of those evil cops will probably just pick a name out of the phone book and set them up because they have so much free time on their hands.

There is approximately 31,000 people in Juneau. There are typically 4 to 5 officers on duty at any given time. They work an 8 to 10 hour shift. Throw in a lunch break, a briefing and time to write daily reports they might be on the road 4 to 6 hours at best. They are also busy being a parent to the kids we refuse to parent, they are asking people to be nice and turn down the music because we are a coward to knock on our neighbors door. They run to a gazillion domestic violence calls because we can't treat each other with a little respect. Throw in the alcohol related calls from fights to fatal accidents.

These cops have a difficult job to do with the unjustified scorn of many people. A recent poll at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center showed that 97.5% of the people incarcerated are their unjustly.

Cops are upstanding people in our community that give back a lot on duty and off duty. We are not always going to agree with decisions that are made. Most people are bitter at the PD when they got caught doing something they should not have been doing. It ia after all the cops fault we could not hold our temper or got behind the wheel of a car. The are enforcing the rules, we as a society have stated are unacceptable. If you don't like the rules work on getting them changed. In the mean time they are doing the job, I as a tax payer, am paying them to do. My hat is off to the Fire Marshal who is working so hard to stop these senseless fires.

By michaelh2001 | 07/04/11 - 12:25 pm:
Hey MPShake, why the bitterness? I wouldn't call myself a "cop calling, letter of the law" type by any means. The bias I've seen toward others by police in Anchorage has scratched that notion out of my mind forever. But I have seen a big difference in the manners of the police since I moved here from Anchorage in February. Juneau police are thoughtful and listen, from what little I've seen. APD has their mind made up the minute they pull up. In Anchorage, the noisy, yelling one is agitated because he's the trouble maker. Here in Juneau, the cops might take the time to find out that the guy is agitated because the other guy just assaulted him.

Juneau has a small police force. From what I know Juneau hasn't had a murder in 4 years. By way of contrast, Anchorage has had four murders since I moved here 5 months ago. It amazed me that a recent violent robbery made the headline here. Remember Nathan Block/Lambros Goldsmith? In Anchorage, Block would have been Page 8, if there.

I think we are OK with JPD. They might not have any open murder investigations (granted, there may be some cold cases I'm not yet aware of) but they investigate things like burglaries and arsons and assaults and rapes, etc. They'll do whats needed to get their man. And when they do, I suspect it wont be some random guy they pin it on...

The likelihood of a serial arsonist or perhaps a group of serial arsonists remains high. The fire pattern is becoming progressively more destructive, evolving from small fires at athletic fields to major structural fires. The person(s) need to be caught. Those who have information are encouraged to call Juneau Police at 586-0600.

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