Arson was the cause of two basement fires in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart military family housing last month.
A fire in the basement of Building 3118 in the Böblingen Housing Area broke out on April 8.
Less than a week later, on April 13, a fire was started in the basement of Building 2511, in the Patch Barracks Housing Area.
In both cases, no one was injured, according to USAG Stuttgart Directorate of Emergency Services officials.
Fire and criminal investigators do not think the incidents are related.
However, the fires have one thing in common: They were started by juveniles.
“According to tenants in both buildings, kids like to hang out down in the basements. [The tenants] are always chasing them out,” said Len Fagan, the USAG Stuttgart assistant fire chief.
In the Böblingen fire, an investigation revealed that spray paint cans were converted into flamethrowers.
“The wall light switches were set on fire, activating the building’s smoke detectors,” Fagan said.
Even though the small fire self extinguished, he said the damages to the building totaled $1,100.
In the Patch Barracks incident, an unsecured cushioned lounge chair was set on fire. The fire alarm activated, and the sprinkler system kicked in, extinguishing the fire.
Damage to Building 2511 and to personal property was estimated at $1,500.
Fagan said the fire alarm systems in family housing record what happens during a fire, and in the case of the fire at Patch, because the doors to the stairwells were wedged open, the system detected smoke entering the stairwells.
If the fire had gotten out of control, residents could have found themselves without a way to escape.
“The stairwell is a means of egress for residents,” he said, “but, luckily, we didn’t have a great concentration of smoke in the stairwells — otherwise [they] would not have been usable.”
A mischievous act gone wrong can have devastating results.
“When you put a match to something that burns, you don’t know what will happen. A small prank could turn into a large fire and become deadly,” said Fagan.
There are several take-away lessons for residents of military housing, according to Fagan.
• Keep stairwell doors that lead into the basement shut. During a walk-through of several basements in the Böblingen Housing Area on May 6, Fagan pointed out doors intentionally propped open with bricks, dust pans and weights.
• Keep property stored in locked storage rooms or cages. “It’s one of the rules of arson prevention: Don’t leave stuff sitting around that is burnable,” he said.
• Flammable paints and liquids should always be secured. “Many times when people PCS, they leave propane, paints and other combustible liquids in the basement — unsupervised and unlocked — for other residents,” he said.
Fagan pointed out that the re-use centers accept these products.
• Never store propane tanks inside the building. According to local housing policies, “residents will not store propane, similar type fuel containers or other highly combustibles in family housing facilities.”
• “Lastly, know what your children are doing,” Fagan said. “Explain to them what could happen and the consequences.”
“Arson is a crime. You don’t want your kids to have a record,” he said.