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On a dreary Monday morning, city workers and a contingent of the Army National Guard began a dreary chore that promises to make this city a not-so-dreary place to live -- the demolition of scores of abandoned buildings.

Ten National Guard dump trucks rolled into the run-down Cornhill section of arson-plagued Utica just before 8 a.m. as the demolition got going.

Spc. George Jemison of Buffalo, one of 45 Guard troops taking part, said, "It will be a nice improvement for the city."

By afternoon, five boarded-up houses had been razed. The goal is to tear down 100 buildings in the next two weeks. No decision has been made about future use of the area.

By enlisting the help of the Guard and getting permission to haul debris to a dump that has been closed for a decade, Utica, which a year ago was on the brink of financial disaster, will save about $2 million under a federal program to combat arson if it can knock down 200 buildings by the end of November.

It is all being done because of a rash of suspicious fires, which sent the arson rate here soaring to three times the state average.

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