Arsons continue to plague city - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Arsons continue to plague city

Arsonists set 133 fires in one Mid-South city this year.  Police say they have no idea who is doing this, but one neighbor says he knows why the arsons are happening.

Action News 5 chose not to share the full identities of the specific neighborhoods or the people who contributed to this story.

Roosevelt has lived on his South Memphis street since 1935.  He's seen a lot of things, but lately he's watching his block fall to pieces.  "It used to be a nice, it was nice when I first moved here," he recalled.      

The Memphis Fire Department is investigating a series of arsons around Memphis.  Roosevelt says arson is just a symptom and that drugs are the problem.

At 77, Roosevelt is retired and sits on his porch daily.  He explained why he thinks these arsons are happening, "Those dope pushers set them on fire," he said.

Other neighbors described a term people used for the practice.  They call it "taking up smoking."  They say drug pushers use vacant houses to sell drugs and if one pusher wants another out, they'll burn down the house.  In fact, Roosevelt says dope dealers burned bushes in his front lawn, warning him to stop watching.

He says the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush sting shut the drug dealers down nearby, so they opened up shop on his block.  "I don't want to be asleep and they set me and my wife on fire," he worried.

In early summer, fire investigators saw up to four arsons a day.  In April, they responded to a total of 70 arsons since January.  Since then, that number has nearly doubled to 133.

Roslyn lives on another street where there were several arsons.  "It just makes the neighborhood look bad," she commented.

Roslyn says they're an eyesore.  The city of Memphis just got an extra $3 million for its new anti-blight program.  One of their top priorities: to knock down vacant houses.  "They need to fix them up and bring it up to code," Roslyn added.

Memphis Fire investigators say it's harder to solve arson cases since most of the evidence is burned in the fire.  They're still looking for suspects.

As for Roosevelt, he would like to move into a safer neighborhood, but he's coming up in age and moving costs money.

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