Arson

The following information is from the National Fire Protection Association:

Arson fire and fires where are is suspected remain the single largest cause of fire-related property damage in the United States. In 1989, such fires caused 615 deaths and $1.5 billion in damage to buildings. Half of the building fires attributed to arson occur in residential structures where the danger to life is highest.

Arson is a special problem in vacant buildings, buildings under construction, schools, prisons, and jails. Arson is also the cause of tens of thousands of car and truck fires each year.
Who Sets Fires?
A disproportionate number of arson crimes are committed by young people. More than 40 percent of all arson arrests involve juveniles, and one out of every 13 arson arrests involve a person younger than 10 years old.
Some juvenile fire-setting is unintentional, the result of carelessness or curiosity. But in some cases, arson is a young person's expression of anger or a frustrated call for help.
There is no single hard-and-fast psychological profile of a young arsonist. The negative behavioral characteristics they often exhibit are shared, to varying extents, by many young people, most of whom have never set a fire. Many juvenile arsonists, however, do fall into one or more of the following categories:
    • Youngsters who are accident-prone, hyperactive, exhibit poor judgment, or have trouble controlling their impulses. These young people often start "play" fires that get out of control.
    • Aggressive youngsters with school-related behavior problems. These young people may be loners or may be attracted to trouble-making friends. They may have poor self-esteem or embarrassing learning disabilities, and teachers should consider referring them to individual or family counseling.
    • Children who set fires intentionally out of anger or frustration may exhibit self-destructive behavior, steal, or be cruel to animals. They require immediate help from a qualified therapist.
    • Young people who have severe emotional or physical handicaps or who have trouble coping with family problems such as death or divorce. These children may appear overly obedient or unobtrusive.
In young children, fire-setting is the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. But the symptom must be treated immediately. Counseling and professional guidance can redirect a young person's behavior and help him or her confront the underlying problem.

Many fire departments offer programs to help juvenile fire-setters. Parents, teachers, and neighbors should be sure local fire departments know about young people who set fires.
What Is Arson?
Arson is the burning of property for fraud, revenge, spite or even just to turn in an alarm and play the "hero." Arson-for-profit is a common cause.
But whatever the reason for the malicious burning of property, arson is now a major crime, just listed by the FBI as one of the 8 major crimes along with murder, robbery, burglary, assault, and forcible rape.
This reclassification of arson as a major crime is focusing new attention and efforts on arson detection, investigation, prosecution, and conviction.
What is the Consequence of Arson?
About 1000 innocent victims die each year in incendiary or suspicious fires and thousands more are injured. Even though no one you know may die because of arson, everyone shares the cost of this crime.
Unfortunately it is we, the tax and insurance paying public, that pay the high costs of arson - over a billion each year. In fact, arson fires touch all of society in many ways.
For instance, burned out buildings create blighted areas. Employees lose jobs and income. Towns and cities lose tax dollars from destroyed industry or homes. If an antique building or museum is destroyed, an irreplaceable piece of our heritage is gone.
How Does the Average Citizen "pay" for Arson?
Personal property and possessions can be damaged or destroyed. Students and parents can lose the use of school buildings. Taxes are increased or diverted from other needed programs to replace buildings and to support expanded anti-arson efforts at the local, state, and federal levels.
What is Being Done to Combat Arson?
The reclassification or arson as a major crime has increased the momentum of activities aimed at decreasing this expensive "rip-off" of the average citizen.
For example, local areas task forces combine efforts of police, fire, business, government, insurance, and other groups to combat arson.
A number of cities and individual neighborhoods have effective arson control programs that have resulted in a considerable drop in local arson crimes.
Insurance companies are pooling their resources to force a crackdown on suspicious claimants. More firms are contesting claims and winning.
Fire, police, and insurance investigators are pooling their resources to force a crackdown on suspicious claimants. More firms are contesting claims and winning.
Fire, police, and insurance investigators are being better trained to identify the signs of arson and how to preserve evidence. Prosecutors are learning to interpret arson evidence in order to prepare stronger cases.
State regulations that currently frustrate effective arson investigation and detection are being reviewed. New legislation will improve conviction efforts. Also, some communities are keeping records of buildings with code violations and other characteristics that identify them as arson suspects.
Leave it to Them?
At present government, business, industry, insurance, and private organizations (like the National Fire Protection Association) are actively seeking ways to reduce the incentive for arson, to detect the crime, and to convict arsonists.
However, this work may not lead to a solution of the arson crime that could occur in your neighborhood Only you can do that!
For instance, if fires or proven arson is becoming a trend in your neighborhood, you can form a community action group and stimulate coordinated action by agencies that can solve or prevent the arson.
The following community actions help to expose and reduce local arson:
  1. Organize locally. You may be able to get an office and phone free. Identify the probably cause of arson in your neighborhood by researching history of buildings. Set up fire watch teams. Set up assistance programs for victims of fire.
  2. Bring facts to the attention of authorities. This might include information gathered from housing inspection records, code violations, and real estate transactions.
  3. Get legal and political advice on local laws and how best to utilize local resources.
  4. Publicize your efforts by providing information to the media and sharing it with other groups having similar problems.
What can an individual do to prevent arson? (These preventative measures will prevent other crimes too.)
  1. Protect and secure your home or business with strong locks on all windows and doors. Install effective night lighting.
  2. Eliminate readily available fuel for fire - wood piles, paper, leaves, trash, combustibles.
  3. Become familiar with the comings and goings in the neighborhood so you can alert yourself to the unusual.
  4. Inform local authorities about buildings you think are being allowed to deteriorate or that have been bought and sold several times, or are for sale at an inflated price.
When to take action:
  1. Report any unusual or suspicious activity such as strange loading or unloading of stock or household items.
  2. Report people or vehicles present at an unusual time of day.
  3. Report arguments or overheard threats - in many states it is a felony to threaten to burn a building or harm another person.
  4. If you should witness a suspicious fire, inform the fire department of your suspicions as soon as possible. (As a rule, you should stay well away from the building and fire fighting operations.)
The following observations may be important:
  1. Suspicious people or vehicles on or leaving the fire scene.
  2. Acts of vandalism or loud noise prior to the outbreak of fire.
  3. Arguments or threats overheard prior to the fire.
  4. Controversy between employees, contractors, or owner prior to the fire.
  5. Whether the building is for sale, undergoing foreclosure proceedings or contained unusable contents.
  6. Unusual odors such as the strong smell of gasoline.
  7. Note where the fire appeared to have originated and where and how fast it spread. Was more than one fire observed?
  8. Unusual behavior exhibited by bystanders.
REMEMBER, EVERYONE PAYS FOR ARSON!
City of Santa Monica © 2017
1685 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90401 · (310) 458-8411 · TTY (310) 917-6626