PROVO — The mayor of Provo is calling on residents to help investigators solve a recent string of arsons.
Mayor John Curtis said Wednesday he has formed a task force to help solve the cases and stop additional fires from being intentionally set in the city. Police have increased patrols at night, with the assistance of firefighters and an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ten suspicious fires were ignited in the past few weeks, including three Tuesday morning. Investigators said they believe all three fires were started on purpose, and abandoned and vacant buildings appear to be targeted.
A $5,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.
The biggest fear investigators have is that someone could get hurt and an arsonist may target a home where people are sleeping.
"This is a dangerous precedent to set, and someone can get very seriously injured in these fires, and we need to stop it immediately," Provo Police Chief John King said.
Residents have been asked to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activity, especially near vacant buildings in the overnight hours.
"We're limited in eyes and ears in the city with our police and fire and our other personnel," Curtis said. "When you take 115,000 residents and they keep their eyes open and they look for things that are out of place in the city, you can imagine our ability to solve this crime gets magnified many times."
Neighborhood representatives were asked Wednesday to identify properties, such as vacant buildings, that could be targeted so police can watch those areas closely.
Investigators aren't sure if the same person started the fires or if there are copycats.
"There are several different kinds of fire-setting behaviors," Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield said, "and, presently, because we lack sufficient information to put our finger on any specific one, they are still all in play."
Specially trained dogs detected flammable accelerants, leaving no questions the fires were set on purpose, Schofield said. The arsonist also used similar chemicals each time, he said.
Robert McCloy, resident agent in charge at the Salt Lake City ATF office, said the arsonist needs to realize every fire puts lives in danger.
"Everyone assumes it is an abandoned building and no one is going to get hurt," McCloy said. "But what people tend to forget about is that the fire department has to show up, and there are a lot of firefighters putting their lives on the line trying to put these buildings out because someone decides they want to burn (them)."
Police said they are looking at several persons of interest but have no suspects in the arsons.
Provo has also established a hotline where people can call in tips, 801-852-7400.
Among the suspicious Provo fires are:
• A house fire around 2 a.m. March 13 at 262 E. 700 North. Flames were running up the outside of the home and into the attic when fire crews arrived. Crews determined the home had been abandoned.
• A duplex fire that damaged two units on March 24 at 163 W. 4800 North.
• Fires that destroyed three abandoned duplexes on April 11. The overnight fires burned buildings near 4800 North and 300 West. The inside of the buildings were gutted by the blaze and the roofs collapsed.
• A fire Saturday that destroyed a duplex at 15 W. 4800 North, near the Shops at Riverwoods.
• An overnight fire Tuesday damaged a vacant building at 1585 W. Center.
• About 30 minutes later, a vehicle fire was reported near 550 West and 600 South.
• A house fire that same morning at an abandoned home near 500 South and 400 West.