A string of building fires in East St. Louis has firefighters investigating the possibility of a serial arsonist in the area. In the 24 hour shift covering Sunday and Monday, crews worked three major fires, including one Monday morning that was visible for several miles. But that’s just the beginning of the surge in incidents.
The Monday morning fire was on 21st Street at Kansas. A vacant, two story apartment house was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived about 4am. A second building was also on fire. A third small structure would eventually be destroyed, with others sustaining damage. Zina Deboise came outside to find her siding melted from the heat.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I thought the police was chasing somebody at first,” she told us. “That’s what I thought when I first came out. Then when I saw the trucks and I thought it was my neighbor’s house. “
It took firefighters some six hours to get the fire put out, with the old car in the garage where it started continually re-igniting. And that was just one of many obstacles.
“We’ve had some problems with the water supply with the smaller water mains in this area, really has hurt us quite a bit,” Assistant Fire Chief Bill Clossen said. “We’ve had electrical lines that were a major problem and along with the wind and everything this morning too, so everything was against us.”
He also was forced to move some crews to a second house fire about twenty blocks away, on North 41st Street.
It’s too early to tell if either of these fires was intentionally set, but Clossen says they’re becoming suspicious.
In all of 2011, they handled 241 structure fires in East St. Louis. In fewer than two months of 2012, they’ve already worked fifty fires. They’re pacing for more than 300 fires.
“A lot of times when you start getting numerous fires like that, usually it attributes to a fire bug that’s running around in a neighborhood and everything like that, and we’re working with the state fire marshal’s office to try to get this all figured out,” Clossen said.