What Is Arson?
Arson is the malicious burning and setting fire to any location, building, vehicle, or personal property. The motivations behind why someone would intentionally set fire to something differs. In the eyes of the law, arson occurs when a person intentionally sets someone else’s property on fire without consent or sets fire to a property with the intent to commit insurance fraud.
Different Degrees of Arson
- First-degree: The property is occupied when the arson occurs.
- Second-degree: The property is unoccupied when the crime is committed.
- Third-degree: The property is abandoned at the time of the crime, such as a vacant lot.
Types of Arson
- Single, Double, & Triple Arson: This describes a single fire set at one, two, or three locations.
- Mass Arson: When 3+ fires are set at the same location, at the same time.
- Serial Arson: When 3+ fires are set at different locations at about the same time.
- Spree Arson: When 3+ fires are set at different locations with some time passing between each of them.
What Is The Penalty For Arson?
The penalty one receives as a result of committing arson depends on the arson degree and type they are classified under. Factors such as these play a part in whether someone who is charged with Arson gets a felony or misdemeanor offense. Here are some examples of arsonist penalties that may occur:
- Probation: An arsonist must comply with specific terms set by a judge and visit their probation officer regularly. This can last anywhere from 12 months – 5 years, and if the terms are violated, it will result in prison time.
- Restitution: This is the amount of money the arsonist must pay to the property owner for arson damages. This usually occurs on top of fines and/or a prison sentence.
- Fines: Along with prison time, an arsonist may be required to pay fines as high as $50,000 or more.
- Prison: Depending on the extent of the arson charge, the criminal may be sentenced to serve time in prison. Usually, sentences for arson crimes range anywhere from 1- 20 years but can result in a life sentence if there was intent to harm or kill someone.
What Evidence Can Help Prove Arson Occurred?
- Incendiary Devices: Any devices that could have caused the fire to intentionally be started. Examples include candles, bombs, gasoline, matches, and cigarettes.
- Communications: Any communications proving that the person committed arson or had the intent for doing so. Collecting communications is often crucial in cases where someone is seeking to collect insurance coverage.
- Bank Records & Insurance Coverage History: Looking at someone’s bank records and insurance could help prove intent to commit insurance fraud through arson of one’s own property.
Examples of Arson Cases:
- Happy Land Social Club Fire In The Bronx In 1990: 87 people were killed at a Bronx social club after Julio Gonzalez poured gasoline in the club and lit it on fire with a match.
- The Pillow Piro: John Orr, a Glendale Fire Department Arson Investigator, used a cigarette attached to a matchbook wrapped in cotton and bedding to set about 2,000 fires.
- How the Esperanza fire became a raging inferno that killed 5 firefighters: Raymond Lee Oyler put an incendiary device near Esperanza Ave in Carbonza, CA. The Santa Ana winds caused the fire to destroy 40,000 acres and cost the lives of five firefighters.
View our other Glossary Terms here.
*This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.