Burglaries rising at homes being fumigated

FRESNO, Calif.

Fumigation burglaries are a growing concern for Fresno Police and the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

Burglars have hit at least 12 Fresno homes in the middle of serious pest control over the last year. The crooks have made some big hauls, but they've also put their own health at great risk.

The tent covering this home may make it look like there's a circus inside, but what's really beneath the colorful polyurethane is deadly dangerous. But burglars don't seem to care about the toxic gas designed to kill bugs.

"What an opportunity," said John Peckler. "You know, it's all covered up. No one can see what you're doing inside. No one's here and we know they won't come back. It's not like they're out to dinner."

Peckler knows all too well. When he hired a fumigator to get the pests out, another type of pest got in.

"Someone had cut the back of the tent over one of the back doors and had entered and gone through the house and some items were missing," he said.

The crooks made off with about $2000 worth of silver and other valuables. It's a dangerous way to commit a crime.

Fumigators weigh down the tents, but determined burglars can get under them. Once they get inside, fumigators say it's only a matter of minutes before the chemicals will overcome them.

"If you go in too soon, you can die from it, breathing those fumes," said Fresno police detective Chris Franks.

Franks says he's seen evidence from at least two crime scenes that the chemicals caught up to the criminals. But otherwise, his investigation hasn't yielded many leads. He's more focused now on prevention.

"We've let our patrol officers know, if you see a tented house that may be somewhere you want to return to periodically," he said.

Police say they've ruled out any connection to local fumigation companies or employees. Those companies now recommend that customers camp out on their property or hire security during the fumigation. The warnings of danger lurking inside, they say, just aren't enough.

"If somebody's going to break in, they're going to break in," said Reyes Castrellon of R&C Fume. "They're just that determined."

Police have a suspect in one of the fumigation burglaries, but the remaining crimes are unsolved.

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