BIG LAKE -- It's National Arson Awareness Week and Minnesota fire officials are reminding the public that they play an important role in solving arson cases.

To kick off the awareness week, Minnesota Fire Marshal Bruce West, Big Lake Fire Department Assistant Chief Seth Hansen and Jim Iammatteo, the State Fire Marshal Division Chief Investigator all gathered Monday at the remains of an abandoned Big Lake home that was set on fire to talk about arson.

Crews battled the blaze at 540 Westwood Drive on April 20th. Since then investigators have determined the cause of the fire is arson. West says arson situations are typically the most challenging for firefighters to tackle.

"The firefighters come in here during a fire and as you know it's very dark, it's very black and the firefighters can barely see the hand in front of their face. They go in to make an interior attack on this and they may fall through a floor. Arson can be a very serious issue for our firefighters across the state and across the nation because of the unknown within that vacant building."

West says another danger of arson fires in the surrounding homes and buildings that can be impacted. In the Big Lake home's case, West says the neighboring houses weren't far away.

"You can see the two homes on each side, this had definite implications on the homes next door. Arson is not a victimless crime."

When it comes to getting details from the public any information can help and officials say never hesitate to report even the smallest of details.

Vacant or abandoned buildings are typically a target for an arsonist. West says one of the best ways you can help is to watch and report suspicious activity as soon as possible.

Here in St. Cloud, a grass fire from earlier this month is now being investigated as arson. That blaze burned nearly 180 acres of land as well as a vacant building. If you have any information on that arson case you can call the Minnesota Arson hotline at 1-800-723-2020.

Last year, there were 50 arson fires in vacant or abandoned buildings in Minnesota, this is the highest number of arson fires the state has seen in the last five years.

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