South Bend Fire Dept. investigating increase in fires

Officials also urging safety ahead of Memorial Day weekend
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 11:27 AM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s an alarming trend in the city of South Bend, and one that the fire chief is fired up about.

South Bend Fire Chief Carl Buchanon called a news conference on Friday morning to talk about the situation and to sound a word of warning before somebody gets hurt.

Talk about the writing being on the wall, a spray-painted message on a fire damaged house on Donald Street reads, “Let it burn, no more evil.”

The cause of that fire is listed as suspicious.


“Right now, up to this point, there’s probably about 10 that we would deem suspicious, and they’ve been multi-story residences which obviously creates more havoc than just a single-family dwelling,” Chief Buchanon said.

The chief warned of a significant uptick in the number of structure fires in the South Bend city limits. Last year, January through mid-March there were 42. This year, the year-to-date number stands at 58.

That’s an increase of 38%, or 16 additional buildings that have gone up in smoke.

One life has already been lost in a house fire in South Bend this year. Buchanon does not want to see it happen again. “Thes fires are very dangerous and affect our community both by causing unfortunate destruction of someone’s property and by possibly making someone lose their life.”

Buchanon says the targeted houses have typically been rented, vacant, or in the process of being rehabbed. South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski is urging neighbors to say something if they see something suspicious.

“I know there is an uptick in some of our house fires, specifically some of our vacant houses,” Ruszkowski said. “The neighbors know something. They know something’s not right. They need to call us. There is a trespassing statute obviously in state law. There’s also something that has to do with squatters. They’re totally different. One is civil, squatters is civil, and trespassing is criminal, but we can still take proactive measures to deal with the persons who may be occupying those houses.”

If you have any information these fires, call the South Bend Fire Department at 574-235-9300 or 574-235-9255.


In addition to discussing the increase in fires, Buchanon and Ruszkowski talked about some safety precautions for Memorial Day weekend, which is coming up next weekend.

If you plan on firing up the grill, Buchanon suggested you keep your grills and barbecue pits away from your home due to the expected windy conditions. The same goes for sheds, garages, or any other structures that could be on your property.

“The wind will cause your fires that you are cooking your food on to possibly commit to one of those structures, and then you will have a unfortunate incident to where the fire department will have to respond,” he said.

As a reminder, officials said there are no fireworks allowed in the city for the upcoming holiday. They are only allowed for Independence Day and New Year’s celebrations.

Ruszkowski added that the South Bend Police Department does not want to have to deal with celebratory gunfire.

“Why people do that is beyond me, but that happens, it has happened, and it probably will,” he said.

You can rewatch Friday morning’s press conference in the video below:

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