Reports of arson in the county increased more than 33 percent last year, and fire officials are attributing the rise to the recession.
There were 218 cases of arson last year, compared with 163 in 1989. That increase is the largest in the Baltimore area, state Deputy FireMarshal Bob Thomas said. Reports rose 6.2 percent statewide in the last year: 2,741 reports, compared with 2,581 in 1989.
Arson cases in Baltimore rose to 671 last year, compared with 652in 1989. In Howard County there were 64 arsons last year, three morethan the previous year. Arson reports dropped in Harford County, from 76 in 1989 to 58 last year. In Baltimore County, there were 426 arsons last year, one fewer than in 1989.
"Once every 10 years this seems to happen," said Capt. Michael Shaw, who heads the county Fire Marshal's Office. "If you look back at the economy in the last 10 years, during the early 1980s you will see the same thing. As the economygets bad, the incidents of arson go up."
Arson for profit is big business, Shaw said.
"People burn property to get out from underneath their payments, and in some cases they make
money," he said. "It's very hard to prove."
Officials say they have seen a trend toward drug-related arsons scattered across the state.
"People turn to arson as a means of revenge for drug deals gone bad," he said. "We began to see more of an increase in the late '80s in Baltimore, Prince George's, Montgomery counties and Baltimore City."
A survey donelast year by the state Fire Marshal's Office showed drugs were involved in two out of three Maryland arson cases. In some cases, drugs were found at the scene; in the others, victims or owners of the dwellings were involved in drugs.
But Anne Arundel County hasn't experienced such drug-related fires, Shaw said.
"We have had some incidents where users, someone who was under the influence . . . got angry and did something crazy," he said. "But we haven't seen drug dealers burning each other out."
Fire investigators made 48 arson arrests in the county last year and got 42 convictions, Shaw said. In 1989, they made 31 arrests, which resulted in 25 convictions.
The Washington metropolitan area, which includes Prince George's and Montgomery counties, had 730 reports of arson last year, compared with 652 in 1989.