An apartment building with dozens of units, home to many people including families with children, has been the scene of repeated nuisance fires over the past week.
They’ve been set early in the morning and late at night, in common areas, on tenants’ doormats and in vacant apartments. On Friday, someone started a fire while emergency personnel were inside the building investigating an earlier fire.
Although the first fire, set June 6, caused about $20,000 in damage to a hallway and left some apartments uninhabitable, the three other fires have been found and extinguished by one or two residents, authorities said.
It’s almost certain that the culprit is someone who lives in the building or at least has ready access. But who? Authorities still don’t know, and they complain that a tool that could help them solve the case is not being made available.
DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said that if the building owner, Hunter Properties, had followed through on a pledge to reactivate the security cameras in the building, they’d have caught the firestarter by now.
But the cameras, which were installed by a previous building owner and can be seen hanging in the hallways at the building, remain inactive. A news release from the city after the first fire last week said Hunter planned to reactivate them, but the company has yet to do so. Hunter officials have not responded to requests for comment on the matter.
As the fires have continued, so has the police investigation, which has expanded to include the DeKalb County Major Case Squad, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and others. Had surveillance video of the building’s hallways shown police who was starting these fires, these public resources could have been directed elsewhere.
“How many times can a building be set on fire until it burns?” Lowery asked Tuesday.
That answer is one we’d rather not learn through experience.
The person or persons starting the fires may be doing so out of compulsion, or malice, or simply because they crave attention. Regardless of the motive, this firestarter has continued causing trouble while a tool that could catch them red-handed is available, but not being used.
That needs to end. Hunter Properties should activate its security cameras and improve other security measures to safeguard its property and tenants. So long as fires are being set in the building, it’s safe to say that what they’re doing isn’t working.
The residents of Ridgebrook have been subjected to enough danger and disruption in their lives. It’s time for authorities and the property owner and managers to work together to put an end to this dangerous game immediately.