Community under Siege

March 01, 1994

For residents of rural areas, crime is an unusual phenomenon. While violent and lesser crimes do occur, these anti-social acts are the exception rather than a constant concern. That is why the spate of barn-burnings on both sides of the Carroll and Baltimore County boundary is especially disturbing.

In the past year, four barns and one vacant house have been set ablaze. The pattern is the same each time. Investigators believe all the fires have been set by the same person. The blazes have all been started in the wee hours of morning. Gasoline or some other volatile chemical has been used to start and spread them.

Although more than $335,000 in property damage has resulted from the fires, no animals or people have been killed. But this lucky string could end. Each time a barn is set ablaze, lives are endangered. Animals in the barn are vulnerable, as are people who try to rescue them and the farm equipment. Firefighters find themselves particularly vulnerable, because these old barns burn very hot and very fast. Moreover, many of these farms don't have easy access to water needed to extinguish the blaze.

What makes this pattern of arson so terrifying is that just about anyone who has a barn or large structure on his or her property is a potential victim. There is an added sense of unease because the normal precautions against crime are not that effective. Short of staying up all night or installing electronic alarms in barns and vacant buildings, there is no sure method for stopping and catching the arsonist.

Knowing this person is lurking in our midst, people naturally become suspicious of strangers. Folks innocently sightseeing on back roads are immediately suspect. Every bark from a dog becomes a reason to look outside to see what is going on. And when people do walk outside at night to check their grounds, they also take along a gun, increasing the chances of accidental shootings.

This sense of mistrust pervades the community because someone among us has a twisted compulsion to see flames light the night sky. We can only hope that police and arson investigators get some useful tips and catch the person who has been terrorizing this area. Once that individual is behind bars, farmers will be able to sleep a lot easier and again trust their fellow residents.

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