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Suspicious Fires Raise Arson Warnings in California, Tips Can Help Mitigate Damage
Arson Alarm: Outbreaks of suspicious fires in California raise concern for pallet companies. These tips may help keep your company from becoming the next victim.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 2/1/2017
Outbreaks of suspicious fires in California raise concern for pallet companies. These tips may help keep your company from becoming the next victim.
Over the last few years a number of suspicious fires at pallet yards and plants across California have raised industry alarm. Many of these are suspected to be caused by arson due to video footage and subsequent investigations. The problem has gotten so bad that a number of pallet companies have banded together to share tactics and support each other. Their stories and the lessons learned may help you keep from coming becoming the next victim.
Lina Montes, CEO of G.O. Pallets Inc. in Fontana, California said that her company was hit more than a year ago. She explained that the cause was definitely arson because the ignition point was caught on video when somebody threw a Molotov cocktail over the fence igniting a stack of pallets. She added, “We think that there is a serial arsonists behind these fires.”
Many of these companies hit in the recent spree are Hispanic-owned, and some have joined forces to launch the North American Pallet Association (NAPA) with the hopes of convincing federal authorities to stand up and take notice of the growing problem. NAPA is focused on helping pallet companies at the local level deal with problems, such as arson and robbery.
Edgar Montes, operations manager at G.O. Pallets, said, “There have been an incredible amount of fires in the area since 2012. Over 20 since 2012, about 15 of those have been in the city of Fontana…The last suspicious fire took place at California Pallet Supply on December 23rd, 2016.”
According to the reports in the Fontana Herald News, these pallet company owners believe that more could be done by authorities to catch the suspected arsonist behind these fires. Alejandro Cano reported for the Herald News that “the owners, who are becoming increasingly worried that someday a person may end up dying because of the ongoing fires, are now demanding that federal authorities take action to try to solve the cases.”
“We are asking law enforcement to elevate the attacks from simple arson to terrorist activity and equest
the Federal Bureau of Investigation to become actively involved in this matter,” stated Lina.
The Montes listed a series of reasons why the FBI should investigate the incidents. These include that the “arson attacks” are targeting a specific industry; the incidents are targeting an industry that is primarily owned and operated by a specific ethnic group (Hispanic); because the attacks are adversely impacting the economic growth of the region due to the importance of pallets for shipping.
Edgar commented that many in the pallet community in the area wonder if the fires are racially motivated because so many of the companies are owned and staffed by Hispanics and Latinos. He suggested that if it could be proven that there is a racial bias driving the incidents that these fires could amount to a hate crime.
The Herald News article suggested that local fire authorities have named this their top concern and have called for help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Arson & Fire Prevention Tips
The following are some key things that you can do to help protect your company.
Arson prevention all starts with security. People doing criminal activity usually don’t want to get caught and will look for buildings and areas that are poorly lit and do not appear to be monitored or safeguarded. The best thing you can do is step up your security. This may involve illuminating building exteriors, entrances and parking lots. Installing burglar and fire alarm systems can scare away people trying to get into a facility after hours. You may want to install cameras and motion sensor lights that will scare away arsonists or vandals. Posting signs about video monitoring is a good way to let people know that your company is not an easy target. The December 2016 Pallet Enterprise contains an article on surveillance systems and analysis. Read more at http://palletenterprise.com/view_article/4767.
Hiring security guards can ensure that your facility is constantly monitored after hours. They can also quickly detect any problem and call authorities to respond. Many of the pallet companies in the area have hired security services according to Edgar. Smoke detectors and fire systems that notify the local fire departments are a must to keep even a small fire from becoming a big one.
Of course, a security fence around your building or lot is a great way to keep out unwanted guests. The more active your building looks, the less appealing it can be. Some companies paint their buildings a light color to avoid the appearance that it is un-kept or abandoned. By staging pallet stacks far enough away from fencing, you make it harder for an arsonist to throw a Molotov cocktail or other incendiary device onto pallet stacks. You also want to keep your pallet yard as clean as possible because piles of debris are a good fuel source even for accidental fires.
Creating fire breaks reduces the likelihood that a fire spreads. Thus, it is good to leave 10-20 feet between piles of pallet stacks. Some companies are even placing stacks of lumber between pallet piles because lumber is much harder to ignite than pallets. This can be another strategy to slow down any fire that strikes.
Locking up incendiaries in storage is a great way to limit the ability of someone to use your own resources against you. Thus, you should lock up fuels and other chemicals that can be used as an accelerant to spread fire. Locking and restricting access to your roof and top floors can also limit the ability of an arsonist to access even more areas. You should limit the number of entrances and ensure they are properly locked when the building is not occupied.
Many times an arsonist will case out a facility before attempting to start a fire. You and your staff should keep a look out for suspicious looking characters or anybody walking around your facility who is not doing business with you. Most pallet companies have a process to register guests and check credentials of service personnel. Since any commercial business could be a target, it may be a good idea to start a community watch program where companies notify each other of suspicious activity. Technology makes this even easier than ever. If you spot something, you can easily e-mail a warning to nearby neighbors.
Why would pallet companies be a target? Well, with all the wooden pallets stacked up, there is a lot of flammable material that can be a target for an arsonist. Many times pallet plants are located near rough neighborhoods or industrial areas that may be close to criminal elements and are not heavily policed.
Fire Risk Assessment and Prevention
A great place to start is to conduct a risk assessment of your property. How big of a target are you? What can you do to reduce the likelihood of success for an arsonist? Many arson fires affecting businesses start outside of the building. Look to remove easy fuel sources that could be attractive to arsonists. This should be on your business radar screen to keep you from becoming a target. There may not be a way to keep out a really determined arsonist. But you can at least make your company less attractive of a target.
Having enough water supply nearby can assist fire fighters in case of an incident. Do you have enough hydrants close to your facility? Do you have a fire plan?
Police Offer Reward to Catch Pallet Arsonist
Police in southern California have offered a $33,300 reward according to San Bernardino News for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspected arsonist and fire bomber. A security camera partially caught the suspect on video. To see the video, go to https://goo.gl/u1DyO5
Anyone with information regarding these recent pallet fires is urged to contact the San Bernardino County Fire Department at 800/472-7766 or 909/356-3805.