Arson is a Felony Crime

Arson fires account for a large percentage of all fires. Because arson fires can be somewhat difficult to determine or detect, the actual number of arson fires tend to be underreported. Some fire officials estimate that as many as 50 percent of all fires may be intentionally set. In the United States, more than 700 lives are lost each year in arson-related fires. Although, fire officials often try to measure the cost of arson using statistics, such as lives lost or dollars lost, the actual cost involves several factors that are more difficult to measure (change in neighborhood, environment, etc.). Arson fires in a neighborhood can have a significant impact on property values of all structures in the area.

What are the Facts?

  • Approximately 210,300 fires are intentionally set each year. These fires represent 13 percent of all fires reported to fire departments.
  • Intentionally set fires result in approximately 375 deaths, 1,300 injuries, and $1 billion in direct property loss annually.
  • The incidence of intentionally set fires peak in the spring (March and April) and again in mid-summer (July).
  • Matches (30 percent) and lighters (15 percent) are the leading heat sources of intentionally set fires.
  • Fifty-seven percent of intentionally set fires occur in outside areas. Twenty-two percent of fires occur in open, outside areas including fields and farmland. Twenty percent of intentionally set fires occur in other, unspecified outside areas.
  • Approximately 22 percent of intentionally set fires occur in structures.
  • Light vegetation including grass (26 percent) and rubbish, trash, and waste (11 percent) are the items most often first ignited in intentionally set fires.

Source: United States Fire Administration Topical Fire Report Series, Intentional Set Fires, Volume 9, Issue5/November 2009

What are Common Motives for Arsonists?

Excitement:

  • Thrill seeking
  • Recognition as a hero (such as firefighter-arsonists)
  • Sexual gratification

Vandalism:

  • Malicious or mischievous fire-setting that results in damage to property
  • Most often set by juveniles
  • Frequent targets are schools, abandoned or vacant structures, and dry vegetation

Crime Concealment:

  • Fire is set for purpose of covering up crimes such as murder, burglary, destruction of records and auto theft.
  • Goal is to eliminate evidence left at scene.

Revenge:

  • Fires set in retaliation for some real or perceived injustice
  • Perceived wrongdoing may have occurred months or years previous to the fire-setting activity
  • Is the most common motive for a serial arsonist

Extremist/Terrorist:

  • Fires set to further their own or group’s social, religious or political causes
  • May involve government buildings or property, houses of worship, clinics or laboratories
  • Perpetrators or groups involved often claim responsibility for political or media attention

Profit:

  • Fires set for direct monetary gain or for indirect gain to eliminate debt or to eliminate business competition
  • Examples include insurance fraud, welfare fraud, destroying outdated property, remodel property, etc.

What is the Real Cost of Arson?

Human Cost: All arson fires are crimes against people, even if the intended target is a vacant building, trash or woods. These fires must be controlled and extinguished by firefighters; and therefore, human life is endangered whenever a fire is set. Certainly, a major blaze in an occupied apartment building is much more severe than a small fire set in a field. However, every year firefighters are killed or injured in responding to or combating small, open air fires.

Direct Costs: The value of the property destroyed by the fire; the cost of firefighting supplies and staff to control and extinguish the fire; the cost of insurance coverage on the property.

Indirect Costs: The loss of tax revenue, since the property may be taken off the tax rolls; the welfare or unemployment costs of the workers put out of work, even if the building is rebuilt; the medical expenses of civilians and firefighters injured by the fire; the disability retirement costs of injured civilians and firefighters; increased insurance costs.

What Can You Do About Arson in Your Community?

If we are to effectively address the arson problem in our communities, every citizen must participate in combating this vicious crime. This means understanding the impact arson has on the community and cooperating to prevent arson, and reporting suspicious persons and activities that may result in arson.

Consult with your local fire or police officials to determine the extent to which arson is a problem in your community or neighborhood. If a particular part of your community is plagued by arson, you should get involved before the problem spreads or becomes worse. Generate interest among your neighbors and friends. Start or participate in a community watch program. Report all suspicious activity to the local police department or fire department. Everyone needs to be involved in Arson Prevention.

Do You Have Information About A Possible Arson?

A statewide Arson Hotline, (800) 252-2947, has been established so that citizens may anonymously provide information about a suspicious fire that has occurred or may occur. You may be eligible for an award up to $2,500 for providing information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of an arsonist.