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Understanding The Enemy: Profiles and Motivations of an Arsonist

Kendra Weikman | - For sources, see Editor's note.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines arson as being any willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, or any other personal property of another.

Loss of life and property are some of the unfortunate outcomes of arson, and due to the serious nature of it, arson carries severe penalties and punishments. Modern American arson law varies slightly from state to state, but most typically classify arson by degrees: first degree arson involves fires in homes, schools, or churches; second degree arson involves unoccupied structures and vehicles; and third degree arson involves personal property.

Jail time for convicted arsonists varies, depending on the degree of arson, damage inflicted, or motive. Many states carry harsher punishments for those who attempt to defraud insurance companies.

If the arson results in the death of an individual, arsonists may also face murder charges, resulting in a sentence of life in prison or even the death penalty.

Nationally, 62,807 arson offences were reported in 2008 with an average dollar loss of $16,015 per offense.

With so many arsonists out there, what can we in the fire service industry do to spot potential threats? This article presents behavior profiles and motivations for the different categories arson can fall under.

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