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Residents worry as arsonist targets Big Run buildings

August 2, 2011

This 204 Caroline St. house owned by James Stellabuto, Sr. of Big Run was heavily damaged by an arson fire last Tuesday and was set on fire again last Saturday morning. Big Run officials are encouraging residents to keep alert for any suspicious activity. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BIG RUN — As the number of arson fires in the Big Run area continues to mount following the ruling that a second fire at a house on Caroline Street was intentionally set on fire, people are becoming more concerned.
Area residents, whose names will remain anonymous, said they are afraid to go to sleep at night because of the worry that their homes could be next.

Nick Lantz, Big Run Borough Council president,said that many people who live in Big Run are asking him what they can do to help deter any more arson fires — and catch the individual(s) who are starting these blazes.
Despite the added electrical cost, Lantz said residents should leave their outdoor lights on overnight, especially in the backyard.

"If they see anyone out and about early in the morning or overnight, they should call the state police, and tell them there is someone who is riding around in the area, and (police) can get here and question them as to what they are doing here." Lantz said. "Hopefully, this will come to an end with some kind of arrest, but it is going to be tough."

Todd Peace, Big Run Fire Department chief, said he and some other firefighters assisted Cpl. Charles E. Gross, Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, in searching the woods that surround the Caroline Street and Thompson Street area for evidence that may have been left behind.

"We came up with nothing, zero," Peace said, adding that he was surprised that the same house was on fire again, and that burning an already-burned building didn't make any sense to him.

"I guess in the mind of an insane person, burning a burnt building must've made some kind of sense," he said. "But not to me."

Peace said residents have become scared about the fires, and they are wondering who is going to be next.

"I left the firehall to go to work at my store at 6:40 a.m. the other morning, and before I drove the whole way to the west end of town, I was stopped four to five times by people flagging me down and asking questions about the fires," Peace said, adding that people are scared — and so is he.

"Whenever we're at a fire scene with firefighters from Big Run, Sykesville, Central, McCalmont going in and out of a fire-damaged building, all I can think about is, 'What if the roof collapses and someone gets injured or someone has a heart attack?'" Peace said.
Most of the time, Peace said he can tell ahead of time when a building is unsafe.

"My job is to worry about that, and make sure that the firefighters get to go home to their husbands, wives, moms and dads — it's a lot of stress," he said. "I go to bed every night wondering if the siren is going to go off again, and are my guys are going to be okay?"

Peace said the most important thing when fighting a fire is safety.
"At accidental fires, we take that risk. That's our job," Peace said. "Now you have some coward out there who is burning somebody out or burning something down, it just makes it that much worse."

Big Run Mayor Joe Buterbaugh said this string of arson fires in the Big Run area makes no sense to him.

"We've got a curfew in town of 10 p.m. where our young people are to be off the street," Buterbaugh said, adding that he has friends who work late out of town and when they get home, they've seen some young people wandering the streets between 1 and 2 a.m.

"I'm not saying it's the young people, because right now, we have no idea who it is," he said, adding that parents need to be aware where their children are.

"Starting fires at houses with people living in them is scary to the many elderly people that live here," he said.

Buterbaugh said there are many people who might not be able to get out of their homes if something happened.

"Mr. (James) Stellabuto who lived in the house on Caroline Street is crippled with arthritis and walks with a walker," he said. "It was a good thing that his house had only one floor; if he lived on the second floor, he never would've made it out."

Buterbaugh said when there were arson fires set a few years ago, the fires were all out of town where there weren't many houses close together.

"Now it's happening in town where the houses are closer together," Buterbaugh said, adding that the arsonists are getting braver and braver.
"Everyone is going to sleep with one eye open — it's not right," he said. "People should be able to retire at night and get a good night's sleep."

Buterbaugh said residents need to look out for each other, and if they see anything at all, they should call the state police at 938-0510.

When it comes to children riding in cars, safety always comes first.
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