ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Kids as young as four years old could be responsible for causing thousands of dollars in damage here in the Stateline.
More people are intentionally starting fires in Rockford and we’ve learned very young kids and teenagers are to blame for half of the arson cases in the city.
The Rockford Fire Department says they’ve worked with police to arrest more than 30 people over the last year for the crime. Half of the suspects were very young, with some taken into custody at just 8 years old. Investigators appear to be arresting more people, compared to the national average.
A pile of burnt rubble is all that’s left of an abandoned home on Avon Street. Fire Investigators say Donald Richardson burned this and another abandoned home, along with 10 garbage dumpsters, all to the ground last year.
“His fires were getting larger as he’d go along. One thing we feared most not only for the citizens, but the firefighters’ safety," said Chief Derek Bergsten with the Rockford Fire Department.
Fire investigator Timothy Morris says while Richardson is charged with starting the fires. However, Richardson actually doesn’t fit the profile of who’s responsible for most of the arson fires across town. Morris says more than half of those arrested in Rockford are kids.
“It’s very dangerous. Most children and adults that become skewed mentally, don’t realize the ramifications of fire,” said Morris.
According to investigators, younger children who don’t get the help they need, could eventually start escalating to larger structures as they get older.
Morris says kids are naturally curios and may find fires fascinating, but at a certain point, that curiosity turns into more of a criminal or emotional intent that drives children to start fires.
“Some of those people need help when they do these types of things and when they get arrested or brought to our attention, we can steer them in the right direction and get them the help they need."
Investigators say the ages of those children starting fires ranges from 4-17 and if they’re not sent ot the county juvenile center, they’re given counseling to get to the root of the problem.
The Rockford Fire Department has three arson investigators. The Department says over the last year, they investigated 292 fires. 77 were accidental, 60 were arson and 35 are still a mystery. However, crews say they were likely set on purpose. There just wasn’t enough evidence to label them that way.