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Vigilance needed in arson incidents

To paraphrase 17th century political theorist Algernon Sidney, those help improve public safety help themselves.

That thought occurred Thursday following the request by the Albany fire and police departments in preventing more incidents of arson in a half-mile area of East Albany from the 200 block of Thornton Drive to the 1600 block of East Broad Avenue. Over the past three years, firefighters have had at least 10 calls to the area to extinguish blazes that authorities said were deliberately set.

While we have been fortunate in that there have been no injuries with the arsonist(s) targeting vacant structures so far, there has been at least one case in which a residence had been occupied as recently as a few days before the building was ignited.

With an average of three of these arson cases a year -- and that is assuming there are not cases in other areas that haven't been connected -- the chances are slim that this pyromaniac is going to stick his matches in his pocket and quit his destruction, which has already cost more than $200,000 in damages.

Fire is also not the sort of thing over which man has full control. A vacant structure may be targeted by the criminal, and that is bad enough. But it is also quite probable that one of these blazes will get out of control and injure -- or kill -- someone. And what if a structure that the arsonist thinks is vacant turns out to be occupied?

No, this is a dangerous game, one that must be interrupted as soon as possible.

That is why we hope those who live in and frequent the area where the incidents are occurring will take the danger seriously and do what they can to help fire investigators and police locate the culprit or culprits. Every person who is on the lookout for suspicious activity at vacant buildings in the target area is one more set of eyes that can help bring a stop to these crimes.

While police and firefighters do everything they can to protect the public, they are far from omniscient and omnipresent. They simply cannot be everywhere at all times, though they absorb a great deal of unfair criticism about that fact.

But when people in an area take an active role in assuring the safety of their neighborhood, the police presence can be multiplied many times over. Keeping a sharp eye out and taking the initiative to call can be the difference between a timely arrest and the unnecessary loss of life, health or property.

In this situation, there has already been considerable loss of property. Let's hope that someone sees something that leads to action that breaks up this series of arsons before someone gets hurt or killed.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board