The streets signs -- Yellow Brick Road, High Street and many with common first names -- have become too much of a temptation for many suburban Washington youths.
Teen-age vandals have been ripping down signs with those names and those of their best friends, carting them home to give their bedrooms a stylish decorator look, Fairfax County officials complained yesterday.
The results have been serious. Many fire, police and rescue units are having difficulty finding their way across the huge county because street markers are often nonexistent, the officials said.
In the past two weeks alone, an estimated 225 signs -- some costing as much as $50 each -- were stolen, county officials said yesterday.
"Parents should realize that they might be helping to murder someone by allowing their youngster to bring home a sign that was obviously designed for public view," said Haywood Johnson, who heads Fairfax County's Five Battalion No. 3.
Although Johnson declined to cite specific instances, he said Fairfax firefighters had lost valuable minutes after becoming disoriented in subdivisions devoid of street markers.
"If the firefighters don't know where they are, the only thing they can do is take out a map and look," he said. "If your house is burning down or someone is choking to death, you're not interested in people parked by the side of the road looking at maps."
What's more, many new subdivisions contain streets that are not on county maps, firefighters say.
Particularly hard hit by vandals, Johnson said, is the Camelot subdivision near Annandale off Rte. 236 between the Capitol Beltway and Prosperity Avenue. Camelot, whose streets are named for mythical English figures and knights has lost all of its signs several times.
Recurrent problems have also been reported in about 10 subdivisions along Braddock Road, officials said.
Police said yesterday they are almost powerless to prevent the thefts, which are costing county taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.
"The only way to get a conviction of these things is through a confession or witnesses, which almost never happens," said Fairfax Police spokesman Warren R. Carmichael. "We just can't be everywhere at once."
Particularly popular among the vandals, who often carry special wrenches and stepladders to obtain their signs are makers with obvious drug connotations.
"The sign for the Yellow Brick Road (a gravel strip off Colchester Road in Centreville) is taken down within hours every time we put it up," said Malcolm Halterman, who supervises the county's sign shop. "We could replace it once a week, if we wanted to."
It costs the county $35 to replace an individual street sign, and $50 if the pole is taken with it.