Fresno, Calif. - Fresno Fire Department Investigators are concerned about the number of arson fires that are tied to a growing homeless population. Arson fires not only pose serious dangers not only to city residents, but to the firefighters responding to put out the fire. In 2015 Captain Pete Dern was hurt in an arson fire and that incident is inspiring investigators to solve these crimes.
Fresno Fire Investigators say this helmet cam video shows exactly why homeless caused fires in vacant homes are some of the most dangerous calls these firefighters must respond to. Jay Tracy is one of those fire investigators who's seeing arson cases, including those involving the homeless on the rise.
"Just willful and malicious fires being set. Whether it's to take the home away from someone else from having access to it or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs," said Tracy.
Tracy says after years of fighting fires like this, one day everything changed.
"We had an incident in the department that shook all of us to our core," said Tracy.
On March 29th 2015 Captain Pete Dern fell through the roof of a home while fighting an arson fire. Dern suffered life altering injuries. It caused Tracy to pursue a career in fire investigations.
"Came to find out that there were a significant number of illegal, or arson fires in the city," said Tracy.
So far in 2018 there are 396 fire investigations, of those, 186 are arson investigations. 67 of the arson fires have been linked to the homeless in vacant homes, a number investigators believe is under reported.
Seeing first hand the dangers firefighters face when someone starts a fire, Tracy says its irritating.
"I do kind of take it personally when someone maliciously starts a fire because it puts my family at risk. And this is nothing more than a big family. There are 300 of us on the Fresno Fire Department and every one of them are my brothers and sisters," said Tracy.
Fire investigators say the best way to help prevent these types of fires is to report people living in vacant properties. Reporting it will give the city a chance to take action before another fire starts.