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As crime drops in cold, house fire calls increase

January 31, 2019

Crime goes down, house fires go up.

When cold weather plunges to frigid, that is the general pattern, police and fire sources said Wednesday, when the low temperature was a record minus 13 degrees. And the highest? A sunny-ish zero, according to the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana.

With the wind chill factor, it felt like minus 43 degrees just before 9 a.m.

Michael Joyner, the Fort Wayne Police Department’s public information officer, confirmed the correlation between cold weather and a decrease in crime.

He said calls to dispatchers drop with the temperatures.

“It stands to reason that in warmer weather conditions there are more people out assuming normal activities,” he said. “Thereby, the criminal element has a larger pool of potential victims from which to victimize. Colder weather, less opportunity.”

 The same cannot be said for house fires, according to Adam O’Connor, deputy fire chief for the Fort Wayne Fire Department.

O’Connor cited two reasons for the increase in fires.

“People find alternative sources of heat like kerosene heaters and that type of thing. (When heat sources are) too close to curtains or furniture, they catch things on fire,” O’Connor said.

In extreme cold, increased usage of electricity causes an increased current through power lines, taxing the system.

“Any weakness in an electrical line can cause a fire, particularly if the wiring is old,” O’Connor added.

A fire at 4438 Winter St. reported at 1:02 a.m. Wednesday might be an example, O’Connor said. An electrical panel caught fire, according to the fire department’s report.

When firefighters arrived, one home occupant was trying to fight the fire. The other occupant could not evacuate because she was in a wheelchair hooked up to oxygen, O’Connor said.

Firefighters saw smoke and evacuated both people, along with two dogs, and put them in a fire truck to keep warm. 

Fire in the rear of the home and the attic was extinguished in 12 minutes, the report said.

“That is why smoke detectors are so important,” O’Connor said.

One crime that can increase with cold snaps is auto thefts, Joyner said.

“A person, at some point, wants to warm their vehicle in extremely cold weather,” Joyner wrote in an email. “They typically start the vehicle and return to (the) warm confines of their homes, leaving a running vehicle at the mercy of a would-be vehicle thief.”

There was some humor to be found while the arctic temperatures had law enforcement and firefighters donning extra gear to fight the cold.

The Huntington County Sheriff’s Department and County Jail put up a Facebook post sure to prompt some laughs.

“Due to the extreme cold and wind, the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department is canceling all misdemeanor and felony criminal activities,” it read. “Criminals, please take note, it is too cold to commit crimes ...! Stay inside and either read a book, watch Netflix, call Crime Stoppers (800-237-STOP) on other criminals, anything, but for the love of polar bears, do not go outside and commit crimes.”

jduffy@jg.net

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