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Last Updated: 2009-10-07

About Arson

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. 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.

Arson Fact Sheet

In recent years, the incident of arson has reached virtual epidemic proportions in the United States. The precise dimension of the problem is elusive because statistics are based on informed estimates as provable facts.

During 2007-2011, an estimated 282,600 intentional fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year, with associated annual losses of 420 civilian deaths, 1,360 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. Outside or unclassified fires accounted for three-quarters (75%) of these incidents, while 18% involved structures, and 7% were vehicle fires.

Despite representing one-fifth (18%) of all intentional fires, structure fires accounted for 92% of civilian deaths, 84% of civilian injuries, and 86% of direct property damage caused by intentional fires. Sixty-three percent of intentional structure fires occurred in residential properties, 6% occurred in storage facilities, 4% occurred in educational properties, 4% occurred in mercantile or business properties, and 3% occurred in public assembly properties. According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States, one in five (19%) of arson cases were cleared by arrest or exceptional means, and two out of five of the individuals arrested for arson were under 18 years of age.

What are Common Motives for Arsonists?

  • Crime concealment: To conceal another crime such as murder, burglary, or vehicle theft.
  • Revenge or spite: To get back at someone for a perceived injustice.
  • Monetary Gain: Arson-for-Profit fires are set to burn a building, vehicle, or some other object in order to gain profit from the fire. The profit may come in several forms; from insurance coverage on the property, or from putting a competitor out of business.
  • Malicious Vandalism: Fire set to someone's property, just to destroy it. Malicious vandalism fires account for the largest percentage of arson fires. These fires are frequently set by juveniles.
  • Mentally Disturbed: Some persons have been found to have an irresistible impulse to set fires.

What is the Real Cost of Arson?

  • Human Costs: 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.

Protecting Yourself From Arson

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Contact Information:

Fire Department
City of Richmond
201 E. Franklin St.
Richmond, VA
23219 USA
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Phone: (804)646-2500

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