Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dumpster fires spreading concern on Hobart

By Stephen Hewitt

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Twenty-seven fires have occurred in a Dumpster on Hobart Lane in Amherst since August of 2010. And while all the fires have been put out, no one has been held accountable for them yet, according to Lawrence Tebo, a captain on the Amherst Fire Department.
Tebo said that before August of last year, Dumpster fires seldom happened. However, he’s seen a large spike over the past year – something he said he and the rest of his team of firefighters are working on around the clock to put an end to.
“It’s unacceptable for our standards,” said Tebo. “Any fires like that, they’re nuisance fires, and it draws out resources away from what we really should be doing, so we’d like to really put an end to it.”
While other Dumpsters around the area have also been lit on fire, Tebo said that most of the activity occurs at the Dumpster on Hobart Lane, which is evident from the 27 reported incidents.
Members of the department have gone door-to-door on Hobart Lane handing out flyers that let residents know what the situation is and who to contact if they know any information.
In addition, they’ve placarded the Dumpster on Hobart with “Arsonwatch” posters. “Arsonwatch,” according to Tebo, is a state program that offers reward money to those who give information about arson fires. Tebo said that information givers can receive up to $5,000 depending on the extent of the information they reveal.
“That’s a state program, and they’ve had success with fires like this,” said Tebo. “I don’t know if it’s one person walking up and doing it. It could be several people, we just don’t know, but we feel as though that with 27 fires, someone knows something and we’d like to know what that is.”
Tebo said that a fire has not occurred in at least a month since the department put in those measures.
Although Tebo said that the situation has seemed to turn to apathy for Hobart Lane residents because of how often the fires have occurred, he noted that they have been very responsive in the department’s efforts. They have emptied the Dumpsters more frequently than in the past, which makes it less attractive for the suspected perpetrators to light the fires, according to Tebo.
Still, however, no one has been caught, and the situation grows more dangerous as more fires are lit without anyone being held accountable, said Tebo.
Tebo said that there are all kinds of things in trash, and when it burns, the smoke emitted is unhealthy for anyone breathing it in. He said that simple things like household items that are thrown in the trash and heated up could have many consequences for people trying to put away their trash and for the firefighters who have to put them out.
“It’s a health hazard, it’s a safety hazard and, more importantly, it’s a nuisance fire that draws us away from someone who actually may need us,” said Tebo.
The department is also short-staffed with seven people on-duty at a time, and putting out these fires takes a number of them off the line, according to Tebo, who said that leaves the rest of the town vulnerable to more serious fires.
Tebo said that whether a fire occurred three years ago or more recently, the department still wants to know about it, as it can lead to more clues to reveal the suspects involved.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected].

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