The state’s fourth-largest city, where two firefighters died in what investigators say was a blaze set by an apartment building owner, has reported more arsons than anywhere else in Ohio over the past few years.
Toledo had more arsons each year from 2009 through 2012 than any other Ohio city, around 500, The Blade reported.
But the intentional fires that are typically set in vacant homes and vehicles are rarely prosecuted – just 27 last year and 23 the year before.
“A lot of vacant homes are burned, and you don’t know. Is it neighbors? Is it for insurance? It’s one of those tough crimes,” said Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates. “There’s not somebody there watching you light the match, and the evidence burns up.”
The Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office reported that it has obtained arrests in 26 percent of the arsons it investigates while the national average is 10 percent, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
“The challenge in a lot of cases is securing that arrest because sometimes the evidence may not be what they need. They need an eyewitness, and a lot of times people are reluctant to come forward with that type of crime,” said Lt. Matt Hertzfeld, a spokesman for the Toledo fire department.
Toledo has 529 arson cases in 2012 – well above the state’s other big cities. Cincinnati had 386, Cleveland 302, Youngstown 263, Dayton 129 and Akron 103. No figures were available for Columbus, The Blade reported.
An arson fire four weeks ago at an occupied apartment building near downtown Toledo killed two firefighters as they battled the later.
Ray Abou-Arab, the building’s owner, was arrested five days after the fire and charged with aggravated murder and aggravated arson.
Investigators said Abou-Arab, 61, used a flammable liquid to start the fast-moving fire. His attorney has not commented on the charges or returned messages left at his office.