STATE—Noting there are an estimated 23,800 vacant residential building fires reported each year, resulting in 75 deaths, 200 injuries and roughly $785 million in property loss, the Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner cautions community members to be vigilant and help prevent arson during Arson Awareness Week (AAW).

“Arson is not a victimless crime,” state a press release, “Aside from the financial implications for property owners and the insurance industry, vacant and abandoned building fires cause a disproportionate share of firefighter injuries according to the National Fire Prevention Association.”

According to a press release, this year's AAW theme is “Preventing Arson at Construction Sites.”

Looking to forestall arson crimes, the fire commissioner recommends community members familiarize themselves with day-to-day goings on in their community so they may better report anomalies should they find them.

The commissioner further recommends workers be vigilant on job sites and inspectors make unannounced visits to assess the project and all on-site activity.

Regular site planning throughout the process, including input from local fire companies, is also recommended.

If something looks out of place or hazardous, the fire commissioner recommends workers and inspectors take pictures of it an notify the job site manager.

For contractors and tradespeople, the fire commissioner's office recommends storing flammable solvents, fuels and tools either off-site or in a locked storage container when not in use.

Removing trash and debris from the site, securing windows and requesting local law enforcement surveillance if possible are also recommended.

Keeping general fire safety in mind, it is also advised to have a practiced plan at the ready in case of emergency, and to ensure smoke detectors are working.

“The two most important things we can do to prevent fire-related deaths are to ensure the presence of operational smoke alarms in our homes, and to have an evacuation plan that the entire family has practiced,” states a release, noting occupants of a building may have as little as two minutes to vacate the premises after an alarm sounds.

More information about arson awareness week and other fire safety practices are available online at www.osfc.pa.gov, or by calling 1-800-670-3473.

--Information from a release was used in this story.