Huge spike in arson reports last year in South Bend

NOW: Huge spike in arson reports last year in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Residents first started worrying about a possible serial arsonist when more and more vacant houses on the Northwest side went up in flames last fall.

Because most of the homes are within walking distance of each other, ABC57 took a closer look at the data and saw an upward trend over past years.

Since October, ABC57 has reported on at least 7 suspicious house fires in the Northwest part of South Bend alone, as well the blaze that destroyed the South Bend Police Department’s Nuisance Abatement Vehicle, known as the “Armadillo.”

Most of the locations are only blocks from each other, some even on the same street and most of the houses are vacant.

According to the South Bend Police Data Hub, in 2015 there were 30 arsons reported.

In 2016 there were 42, in 2017 that number dipped to 35, but in 2018 it rose to 42 again and from January through November of 2019 there were 71 recorded arsons across South Bend.

But South Bend Police Arson Investigator Phillip Herman said those numbers may be misleading.

“Officers on the street take initial report that maybe classified as arson initially, oftentimes it’s a miscellaneous report and then it’s reclassified later,” Herman said. “I think maybe we do a better job at classifying the cases properly. That’s a reason there’s an uptick in some of the reports.”

Herman also said police did catch a handful of arson suspects last year, including one juvenile who confessed to starting 7 fires in the city.

Their goal is to reduce the arson numbers in 2020.

“We’re trying to communicate to the beat officers more, what to look for,” Herman said.

Neighbors have voiced their concerns a firebug could still be on the loose and you can see the damage left behind.

Neighbors say the homes left behind are eyesores and they want them taken down.

“Whoever’s responsible, and then try to get these structures to the ground because it’s a bad look for the city,” Tyron Lax, a pastor at a church right across the street from one of the homes said.

He said there is also a major safety concern.

“To have a structure like this that’s still standing, that’s really a danger to society and kids that walk by, adults that walk by, it just amazes me how it can still be standing this long,” Lax said.

Even though most of the homes that caught flames were vacant and no one was hurt, Lax said leaving them there won’t help.

“Someone is eventually going to get hurt in these homes,” he said.

ABC57 reached out to the city to see who is responsible for these vacant homes after a fire but have yet to hear back.

As for catching the possible serial arsonist, investigators say they do not have a suspect just yet.

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