(10/26/12) - Friday, Saginaw kicked off its annual arson watch initiative preparing for the days leading up to Halloween.
They started work at 8 a.m., and just 30 minutes later, firefighters were battling a vacant house fire.
It might have been a coincidence, but it's a sign that Saginaw is still in a fight to prevent arsons.
The home at the corner of 12th and Annesley on the city's east side was going to be boarded up in an effort to prevent it from being set on fire. But someone beat the volunteers to the home, which had been vacant for some time.
"Our hearts are broken over this," said Marcia Rabideau, of Saginaw Arson Watch.
Just minutes before, Rabideau, city officials and volunteers gathered outside city hall to kick-off the program that would board up about 100 vacant homes to prevent them from being torched around Halloween. The home is only about a mile away.
"We have three of them on this block, and all three were slated to be boarded up," Rabideau said. "We put our heart and souls into this. It's tough to see this home go up in flames."
The fire was quickly ruled arson.
"No utilities, no one living in the structure, for it to be consumed that quickly, some accelerant had to be used," said Ralph Martin, Saginaw Deputy Fire Marshal.
Martin says a fire like this puts firefighters at risk, and people who live in the homes near the vacant houses.
"This could have possibly, easily consumed the structure next door," he said.
The structure next door belonged to Oreata Knuckles and her son.
"My neighbor came over and knocked on the door and told me the house next door was on fire. I called my son and we ran out," Knuckles said.
Madeline O'Neal lives just down the street.
"They need to tear these houses down that are abandoned because they are just waiting for something like that to happen, what did today," O'Neal said.
The home will be torn down, and the other vacant homes around it will be boarded up.
"We are going to keep fighting this fight, and make sure this Halloween is safe for the city," said John Stemple, Saginaw building inspector.
The fire did not deter the volunteers who were boarding up the homes.
"I'm assuming that this is directed at what we are trying to do," Stemple said. "They are trying to rain on our parade, but it's not going to discourage us."
With just one fire on the night before Halloween and Halloween night, the program has been successful.
But the anti-arson campaign relies on dozens of volunteers and businesses who donate materials to stay successful.
"This city can't afford to do this. We don't have the personnel, we don't have the funding," said Phil Ludos, assistant city manager.
Hammer Restoration is one of the companies who donates lumber and time to the effort.
"We do a lot of the board ups for arson watch every year," said Jay Gustin.
Helping with boarding up open doorways and windows, interim city police chief Brian Lipe, who was a road patrol officer in 2006 on the night before Halloween.
"I saw several structures burn right to the ground and the next year we're down to four, so this program has become a huge benefit to the city," he said.
Volunteers and citizens groups will be out on the streets the night before Halloween and Halloween night watching for any trouble.
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