W.Va. Fire Marshals Investigating More Arsons with Less Manpower

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- For the past few months, fire investigators in the Mountain State have been working nonstop on a recent rash of fires.

They’re currently working with only half the typical staff, and to make things even tougher, the cases they're dealing with aren't easy to solve.

The number of arson-related fires in West Virginia this year keeps rising.

“My guys are spread out all over,” West Virginia State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis said. “We're real short-staffed right now.”

Empty positions and a couple of marshals on sick leave has recently reduced its typical staff of 10 investigators to five.

“My hat's off to them. They've been working around the clock. They're sleeping in their vehicles wherever they have to go just to be able to get the workload taken care of,” Lewis said.

They're looking into more than 140 fires in 2012, and 40 to 45 percent of them are being ruled arson.

However, it’s what's causing people to set these fires that has everyone scratching their heads.

“We're seeing buildings that are burning for no reason. We're seeing buildings burn that don't have insurance on them,” Lewis said.

The details are still unclear, but investigators believe many of the fires were sparked by acts of revenge.

“You have a lot of drug related ‘I’m gonna get back at that person. You did me wrong some way and I’m gonna get back at you on a drug deal or something like that,’ " Lewis said.

With little evidence to work with, fire marshals can use all the help they can get.

“If there's any information, we need to know it. We can't solve these fires without the public helping,” West Virginia State Fire Marshal Jason Baltic said.

If you have any information on any case of arson, call the state arson hot-line at 1-800-233-FIRE.

Things are starting to look up at the Fire Marshal’s office. Two marshals are now returning from medical leave, and they're in the process of filling the other three positions.

It will take several months until they're back up to full staff.


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