Heating oil thieves in the Interior city of Fairbanks are back this winter, with a new tactic of targeting empty houses up for sale, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.
Twenty accounts of heating oil theft have been reported to Alaska State Troopers since Oct. 1, mostly from vacant residences. More than $20,000 worth of oil has been lifted from fuel tanks so far, an estimated 5,300 gallons of heating oil.
"It's getting out of control," Fairbanks trooper Ryan Mau told the News-Miner. "Last year, we thought we caught it and it died down, but this year, it's going gangbusters again."
This year's trend is real estate, which makes sense, troopers say. Thieves can look up addresses of vacant homes online, a near-guarantee that nobody will be home when they arrive.
One house was drained of its fuel and subsequently froze, bursting the pipes and causing thousands of dollars in damage.
While residents are being advised to put locks on their fuel tanks, thieves can still cut through them. An alternative is to rig a setup that prevents a hose from being stuck into the fuel tank.
"What I tell a lot of customers to do is drill a hole through the pipe, put a hardened bolt in there, put a nut on it and bugger the threads so they can't get it out," Bob Wilson, manager at Alaska Aerofuel, told the News-Miner. "Something so they can't get a hose down in there."
Troopers are asking for the public to be on high alert for thieves. "If you see a big dually truck with a water tank in the back going through your neighborhood at 3 o'clock in the morning or see headlights late at night at the house next door for sale … get license plate numbers and descriptions of drivers," Mau told the News-Miner.