Over the last month, there have been at least three break-ins in the Bird Rock area in which victims were undergoing termite tenting. During this process, a structure is completely covered with a nylon tent and then filled with a poisonous gas to eradicate the insects. There have been at least six fumigation-related burglaries since May, officials said, and all of the incidents took place in the neighborhoods surrounding La Jolla Boulevard, between Mission Boulevard and Nautilus Street.
Chris Luce, the San Diego Police Department detective handling the cases, said it’s likely that burglars are entering houses with breathing apparatuses of some sort during the fumigation. A tent over the house is an obvious indication that there’s nobody home.
“If they spent any time in there without a gas mask they’d probably be very ill, if not dead,” Luce said.
Luce has been spending full days going door-to-door in the area to warn households that are scheduled to have their homes fumigated. Local pest control companies are working with him to supply client information.
Removing valuables or putting important items in a safe are among Luce’s recommendations. He said the problem is not just happening in Bird Rock — it’s an increasing and reoccurring problem throughout the county. In Coronado, there recently was a string of string on about five similar reported incidents in a very short time, Luce said.
Joe Parker, president of the Bird Rock Community Council, is collaborating with a detective in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to combat the problem through awareness.
“The best thing for residents to do is let neighbors know when they are having their house tented and call the police if they see anyone who doesn’t belong there,” Parker said.
Mike Lawson, owner of La Jolla Termite and Pest Control, suggested hiring a security guard to watch over the home for the duration of the fumigation.
“That way at least you have a fighting chance of scaring someone off,” said Lawson, whose company double-locks all doors during the process. But, he said, “if a burglar wants to get in, they’ll get in through a window.”
“At least in Bird Rock you have a lot of neighbor awareness,” Lawson said.
Lt. Jim Filley, who oversees the San Diego Police Department Northern Division, said some pest control companies deploy pepper spray in homes to deter burglars because the fumigation chemical is odorless.
Fumigation-related burglaries have been a city-wide problem for “quite some time,” he said. But he stressed, “if it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”