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Date of Issue: May 07, 2008

WMFR observes Arson Awareness Week

Not child's play
Novelty lighters encourage children to play with fire, according to West Manatee Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop. The toys are the focus of National Arson Awareness Week, which takes place through May 10. Islander Photo: Courtesy Oregon State Fire Marshal Office

West Manatee Fire Rescue officials are hoping to remind Islanders of unsolved arsons and perhaps stoke a memory during National Arson Awareness Week.

The week is observed through May 10.

WMFR Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop has received one call in the last year regarding the unsolved 2004 arson at the Waterfront Restaurant.

He’s hoping for another call, something to lead investigators to solve the arson fire that destroyed the restaurant, 111 Bay Blvd. S., Anna Maria. The restaurant has been rebuilt and reopened, but investigators continue to look for the “human hand” that started the blaze, Lathrop said.

Lathrop has also received one call in the last month regarding the unsolved arson of one unit of a duplex at 6814 Palm Drive in Holmes Beach last May. Mark Pelham was treated for smoke inhalation after escaping the fire, which started near the entrance to his apartment.

Lathrop is hoping for another call, a lead that could help close the case.

“We’ve kind of exhausted our leads,” said Lathrop. “But somebody just might happen to remember something.”

The national focus of Arson Awareness is on deterring the use of novelty lighters, which look like toys, but could result in costly, deadly fires, Lathrop said.

The lighters have been linked to numerous fires in the United States, according to statistics from the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Last September, two boys in Arkansas died after setting fire to an apartment with a lighter that looked like a toy motorcycle. Last June, a boy burned his face while playing with a novelty lighter at the counter of a grocery store in Maine. This year Maine passed a ban on such lighters.

Novelty lighters have not been linked to any local fires, but ordinary lighters have been linked to fires - a Holmes Beach condominium fire in 2007 and more recently a Bradenton apartment building fire.

Nationwide, intentionally set fires are the major cause of property damage and fire deaths. In 2002, the most recent year in which statistics are available, children set fire to 13,900 structures, resulting in 210 deaths, 1,250 injuries and $339 million in damages.