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500 Fires Investigated By Arson Bureau Last Year, 260 Set Intentionally

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

The San Antonio Fire Department held an open house to the media this week to detail what it does to determine whether or not a fire is considered an act of arson.

The fire department has 17 arson investigators, who the past two years have been called out to more than 1,200 fires.  Captain Chris Casals, with the San Antonio Fire Department's Arson Bureau, said his division exists to determine the cause and origin of a fire.

"Fire back in the turn-of-the-century was a very, very big deal," Cassals said.  "Half of major cities had burned down due to fires. When we determine when causes fires - we determine if it was a crime of if it was accidental - what happens with that is fire code can be developed. Actions can be taken to prevent this kind of thing in the future.”

The arson investigators determine if a fire was accidental, undetermined, natural, or incendiary -- meaning it was set intentionally.

Last year, there were about 500 fires that arson was asked to investigate but only about 260 were deemed to be incendiary. In 2011 there were 700 investigated blazes and again 260 were believed to be set on purpose.

Out of all the fires deemed to be intentional in San Antonio, only 20 percent have someone with charges brought against them. The national average is only 12 percent.

The most recent string of fires deemed to be arson is a series of seven vacant buildings on the East Side over the last three months. At least two of those are believed to be connected.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules