It was a year that many people may have wished they could figuratively burn to the ground, but the increase in intentional arson fires reported in Cedar Rapids in 2020 is no joke.

Of the 32 arson cases recorded, the Cedar Rapids Police Department states that twelve of them were sparked by "Molotov cocktails" or from derecho-related debris.

A public on edge during a pandemic, increasing nationwide civil unrest, and a storm that left behind acres of debris across the city over some of the warmest weeks of the year could likely have been among factors contributing to the increase. The Cedar Rapids Gazette says arson incidents were up 60 percent from 2019.

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Six debris fires occurred over a two-week period in October, all of which involved mattresses set on fire and left as rubble near the streets. Many of the reported arson fires are still under investigation, with only 5 arrests made as arson is one of the toughest crimes to solve, according to Cedar Rapids fire marshal Vance McKinnon.

While McKinnon refers to Molotov cocktail incidents in general as a "crime of passion" and several of them occurred in June, around the time of the unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, McKinnon calls the timing a pure coincidence and along with other authorities wants to strongly state there is no direct evidence of a correlation. The first of these incidents, which was sparked in a parking lot in the 3300 block of Queen Drive SW, happened much earlier in the year, in January.

Why are intentional arsons so hard to solve?  Witness accounts and security footage featuring the parties involved are extremely vital, according to McKinnon, but often crucial evidence gets destroyed by the fire or the process of putting it out.

McKinnon says they are generally able to solve 10 to 20 percent of arsons.


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