Metal theft remains serious problem after blast

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – 2 NEWS checked and there are still a lot of questions about what exactly caused an explosion that leveled a Dayton home on April 21st.

At least 49 homes were damaged last week on Brooklyn Avenue and officials expect that number to rise.

Investigators confirmed natural gas triggered the explosion, but the circumstances leading up to the blast are suspicious.

One possibility being investigated is that copper theives may have caused a break.

2 NEWS asked how the city is fighting back against copper thieves and learned that the Dayton Police Department is revamping its efforts with a Metal Theft Unit.

It’s dedicated to putting an end to the growing scrapping problem in the city’s vacant homes, like the one that exploded last Monday.

Metal theft is a quick way to earn a buck, but the dangers that come along with scrapping are high.

Lt. Rhonda Williams said the problem is becoming more widespread with increased vacant homes.

She added that the return isn’t worth the serious consequences, both criminally and physically.

“There are all kind of dangers from structural dangers, where they might actually fall through floors that have rotted out. They cut themselves frequently trying to use the cutting tools that are necessary or even on the metal itself. And there’s also the possibility that they could be confronted by the property owner,” said the 22-year department veteran.

The typical profit from scrapping is relatively low; on average it’s a couple of dollars; however, skilled scrappers can make thousands.

Officials said it’s not worth the risk to scrappers or the public.

Vacant homes with live wires, when stripped, can cause catastrophes, adding to the cycle.

“The metal theft in turn exasperates the problem by making those homes untenable that– nobody can move into them until they have been repaired and so in addition to having the vacant properties, you now have uninhabitable vacant properties and so it just worsens and worsens over time,” said Williams.

State legislators have created stricter laws for scrap yards and dealers to help cities fight metal theft.

Dayton PD has partnered with recycling centers and scrap yards with assigned officers who patrol various locations for any evidence or tips of scrapping and Williams believes it’s working.

By July, a state mandate will require scrap yards and centers to report to an online database, which will record who is scrapping and what kind metal they’re turning in.

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