Serious Arson Up in Anchorage

Photo courtesy of Brian Balega.
Fire crews prepare to make an interior attack on the fire at the Sunrise Grill in South Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Brian Balega.

Serious arson seems to be on the rise in Anchorage for 2013.

In August, someone intentionally set several fires in a heavily wooded section of Russian Jack Springs Park. And in October a man was caught on surveillance tape setting the roof of a Mountain View pawn shop ablaze.

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These are just two of the 88 cases Investigator Brian Balega is juggling right now. Balega says that number includes those carried over from years’ past and he’s actively investigating 54 of them.

“I’m almost doubled,” Balega said. “Last year I dealt with 25 arsons.”

“This year my arsons since January 1, 2013 is 40.”

Photo courtesy of Brian Balega.
Crews from Station 12 arrive size up a fire at the Sunrise Grill in South Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Brian Balega.

Of the 40 arson cases from 2013, just a handful been concluded. That’s not including the many smaller arsons that are routinely handled by the Anchorage Police Department each year.

This year APD has handled 24 arson cases, for a total of 64 total arsons in Anchorage so far. Balega says he’s seeing more serious commercial Arsons.

“This is the most commercial arsons I’ve seen,” Balega said. “I actually got four of them since the first of the year.”

“That’s unusual for me to see that many of them.”

Last year Balega says he had did not have any commercial arson cases and it’s unusual to have more than one a year.

Fire Chief Chris Bushue confirms that more serious arson is occurring in Anchorage this year.

“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Bushue said. “I’ve tried to make sure that we’re not reporting more, and that actually appears to be the case, that there’s actually more out there.”

Brian Balega is the only fire investigator for the Municipality of Anchorage.

He has worked in the positions since 2008.

In the 1980’s there were several investigators, but over the years the other positions were eliminated.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.