Arson is defined as the willful and malicious burning or charring of property.

There are many types of arson crimes, including setting fire to one’s property with fraudulent intent–such as to collect insurance money. While the majority of arson crimes involve damage to buildings, arson can also be committed by a person who sets fire to forest land or a boat. Arson statutes typically classify arson as a felony due to the potential to cause injuries or death.1

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, arson is the leading cause of fire property damage in the United States.2
  • Arson is not limited to buildings and personal property.
  • According to the NFPA statistics, revenge, not profit, is a major motivating factor in arson cases.
  • Serial arsonists may be seeking a “thrill,” but some fires are set to cover another crime.
  • Matches and lighters are the most common ignition sources. Most residential fires are set in the bedroom, while fires in public buildings are most likely to be set in bathrooms.
  • There is not a link between the poor economy and an increased number of arsons.
  • Arson crimes have decreased over the last few years.
  • Arson is a crime that impacts all of us. Reducing insurance claims paid for arson reduces overall insurance costs.
  • The federal Anti-Arson Act of 1982 established arson as a violent crime.
  • There are over 500,000 fires set intentionally each year, resulting in over $2 billion in property damage.
  • 86% of arsonists are males
  • 50% of the intentional fires are set by children.
  • Nearly two-thirds of intentionally set fires occurred in occupied buildings.2
  • Losses resulting from intentional fires included 440 civilian deaths and 1,310 civilian injuries
  • 6% of intentional fires involved vehicles. These fires accounted for 12% of the direct property damage.3
  • Arson is the cause of 33% of dormitory fires and 15% of residential fires.
  • 75% of intentionally set fires are outside of building structures.
  • Identifying arson should be left to the professionals such as the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents, who are trained in arson investigations.
  • Evidence of an arson can include exterior damage to the building, such as signs of forced entry, footprints, and broken windows. Arson usually involves the use of an accelerant such as gasoline. The presence of matches, rags or gasoline cans can be evidence of an intentional fire.2
  • The roots of a serial arsonist can be traced to childhood. The hallmark of a future arsonist is an adolescent with a conduct disorder. Behaviors associated with a conduct disorder include aggression, cruelty to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness, theft, and disregard of parental or school rules. When an adolescent with a conduct disorder starts a fire it will typically be with the intention of causing serious damage and perhaps endangering life. The budding arsonist is most often male and is impulsive.
  • Red Flags for Parents, Guardians, and Educators.4
    • Children who start playing with matches or fire as early as age three
    • Children who frequently engage in “daredevil” behavior, especially near fire
    • Children who mix chemicals or engage in “secret” fire settings in which they try different mixtures
    • Those who are noticeably excited while watching fires

Arson prevention projects should focus on identifying and removing what could burn or materials that an arsonist could use to start a fire5:

  • Clean up the neighborhood by removing all garbage, material, and excess vegetation that is capable of being ignited.
  • Remove all possible sources of ignition such as flammable liquids and unused gas containers.
  • Remove abandoned vehicles. Most car fires are started to cover up other criminal activity or simply as an act of vandalism. An abandoned car is a target for arson.
  •  Secure abandoned and vacant homes which are potential arson targets. This may be comprised of additional locks or the boarding up of broken windows or other openings with plywood.
  • Communicate with the owner that authorities are concerned about the vacant home and explain why.
  • Encourage the fire department to conduct frequent fire code inspections.
  • Contact public works to disconnect all utilities at the street. This includes natural gas, water, and electricity. If there are liquefied petroleum gas tanks, they should be disconnected and removed.
  • Encourage Neighborhood Watch members to patrol these areas and write down descriptions, license plates of suspicious vehicles, and potential suspect descriptions.