By Nicole Hernandez
Editor’s note: This is the 17th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS – Currently in Indiana starting a meth-related fire is not a crime, but that’s about to change.
Indiana repeatedly has ranked first in the nation for the most meth lab seizures. Making meth is highly dangerous and can sometimes create explosions and fires.
“[Meth fires] are a significant problem, for sure,” said Tom Rotering, Indiana Fire Investigator.
As a fire investigator for about 15 years, Rotering knows the difficulty of prosecuting people responsible for meth fires.
Previously, the ability to prosecute a meth fire was not specifically outlined under the arson statute. Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, said meth-related fires were not considered a crime, but instead, considered an accident.
“It’s not even possible for a prosecutor to go after that,” he said.
Additionally, evidence usually gets destroyed in the fire.
“Often times, investigators put together a case just from witnesses,” said Carbaugh. “And most of these people making meth aren’t using their own home, because they know there’s a good chance they might set something on fire.”
Although lawmakers and fire officials know that meth fires are an issue throughout the state, they don’t know exactly how big of a problem it truly is.
“I don’t know any statistics, because the state of Indiana doesn’t keep statistics on meth fires—which is actually part of the bill and [law enforcement agencies] will start keeping statistics after July 1,” said Rotering.
That’s because on July 1, a new law making meth fires a crime will go into effect. The law will now classify it as a Class A misdemeanor. Law enforcement will also be required to report meth fires to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
“The influence for me was hearing from somebody who investigates fires say this is happening all the time—this isn’t a one-off, every now and again. This is happening all the time,” said Carbaugh.
The law also classifies meth-related fires a Level 6 felony if the damage is at least $750. The charge moves to a Level 5 felony if the damage is $50,000 or more.
“Hopefully, we can now hold these people accountable for destroying other people’s property and causing the damage and injuries,” said Rotering. “Ultimately, I think the goal with any law is to detour that type of activity.”
Nicole Hernandez is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.