Suspected vigilante torching vacant houses in Canton; $5,000 reward offered for information

CANTON, Ohio - A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspected vigilante who is burning down vacant houses in Canton.

Fire Chief Stephen Rich said Monday there have been five vacant house fires in the city since Thursday. They began after news reports about a Wednesday fire at a vacant house on Wells Avenue SW, where homeless people gathered. Rich said he believes the fire on Wednesday was started by accident, but that arsonists think they're helping by burning down other vacant structures.

"If you have a problem with a vacant house, it's not boarded up and people are in and out of it, either call here to the fire department or the police department," Rich said. "We'll look into it.  But don't set a house on fire thinking you're helping. Cause you're not helping."

Rich said the arsonists are putting their own lives in danger, as well as the lives of firefighters and the people who live nearby. They are also limiting fire department resources should another fire break out at an occupied structure.

Rich said there are about 2,000 vacant houses in Canton.

"This problem didn't happen overnight," he said, "so we're not going to take care of it overnight. The city's doing as much as they can to get grants, funding for demolition and board up these houses as they come up. But it's a never ending battle."

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