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Chapel Hill Residents Fuming Over Burning Leaves

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CHAPEL HILL — The beauty of the fall season is fueling the flames of crime in Chapel Hill. Autumn leaves proved to be the perfect firestarter and several people who lost their cars as a result are feeling the heat.

This time of the year, leaves are everywhere, but they seem harmless enough -- until you see some cars set ablaze by them.

Residents say they are astounded by the arson.

Around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, someone set eight leaf piles on fire. The piles were all near parked cars.

Chapel Hill resident Charles Antle describes the scene. "The cars were really blazing. I mean the flames were 12-15 feet high and I was afraid the cars were going to explode," Antle says.

Three cars were destroyed by the fires, including one Ray Shillito was about to give to his daughter. Shillito says this is not the first time something like this has happened in his neighborhood.

"About a year and a half ago we had an incident where some guys came around and they slashed all the tires on the cars," Shillito says. He says 20 to 30 cars in the neighborhood were affected, including some that were keyed.

Chapel Hill Fire Department officials say they believe the fires were a one-time prank, not the work of a serious arsonist. Investigators say it may be hard to find whoever did this, and residents agree.

"If you catch them in the act, then maybe you'll find them," Shillito says. And until investigators find who did this, it will be hard for some of these homeowners to rest easy.

"I'd be afraid of something worse happening," Antle says, "like somebody setting fire to the house or somebody else's car."

Fire officials advise residents to take the following steps to protect their property.
  • Avoid parking near leaves.
  • Spray leaf piles that are in front of homes.
  • Bag leaves if possible.
  • Report any suspicious activity to police.
  • People in one house in the neighborhood say they heard a car driving away right before the blazes started.

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    Len Besthoff, Reporter
    Greg Clark, Photographer
    Julie Moos, Web Editor

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