Cuyahoga County has earned praise for its systematic reclamation of derelict properties, which are often reused for urban green space or check-cashing stores. Our friends in Youngstown may have found an even more efficient means of clearing the dead weight.
In an eight-day stretch last week, the city’s fire department was called to blazes at 11 abandoned houses — all of them arson, according to the department’s chief, John O’Neill.
So far, there doesn’t appear to be any master plan behind the fires, which leads O’Neill to guess that a single pyro isn’t holding all the matches. “They’re sporadic,” he says, explaining that the calls dispatched his men to all points of the compass citywide, though a number of the fires did occur in clusters.
“On the south side, three times this week we had two fires going at the same time in the same relative neighborhood, within 10 city blocks of each other,” he says. “Those, I got to say, are likely the same person.”
O’Neill says the department usually handles around 5 to 7 garden-variety fires a week. A handful of theories have surfaced to explain the recent action in abandoned real estate — everything from squatters who aren’t very good at lighting cigarettes to gang initiations.
Also on the suspect list: Neighbors tired of staring at eyesores who may be dabbling in a bit of guerrilla activism.
“Once the weather breaks, these vacant houses look worse with the high grass around them, and people get frustrated about them,” O’Neill admits.