Arson

Arsonists set fires that destroyed $729 million worth of property in 2014, up 10 percent from $663 million in 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The $729 million loss in 2014 included $116 million from vehicle fires and $613 million from fires in structures.

One out of every five wildfires in California since 2007 was declared arson, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). In 2014 more than 1,000 wildfires were intentionally set. Six out of the top 20 most damaging California wildfires ranked by number of structures destroyed had arson as their cause, according to CAL FIRE.  Two fires—the Valley and Butte fires, which were still burning as of September 2015 and already rank number three and number seven most damaging, respectively—are under investigation.

Church arsons, a major problem in the 1990s, have dropped significantly. Intentional fires in religious and funeral properties fell 82 percent from 1,320 in 1980 to 240 in 2002, the last time such figures were tracked. There were 1,600 structural fires in houses of worship which caused $105 million in property damage on average from 2007 to 2011, according to the NFPA. Fires in a larger category, religious and funeral properties, averaged 1,780 during the same five years. Among those fires, 16 percent, or about 285 each year, were intentional.

INTENTIONALLY SET FIRES, 2005-2014

  Structures Vehicles (2)
Year Number of fires Property loss
($ millions) (1)
Number of fires Property loss
($ millions)
2005 31,500 $664 21,000 $113
2006 31,100 755 20,500 134
2007 32,500 733 20,500 145
2008 30,500 866 17,500 139
2009 26,500 684 15,000 108
2010 27,500 585 14,000 89
2011 26,500 601 14,000 88
2012 26,000 581 12,500 480 (3)
2013 22,500 577 10,500 86
2014 19,000 613 8,000 116

(1) Includes overall direct property loss to contents, structures, vehicles, machinery, vegetation or any other property involved in a fire. Excludes indirect losses, such as business interruption or temporary shelter costs.
(2) Includes highway vehicles, trains, boats, ships, aircraft and farm and construction vehicles.
(3) Includes $400 million in property loss from an intentionally set fire aboard the submarine USS Miami.

Source: 2014 data reproduced with permission from Fire Loss in the United States During 2014 by Hylton J.G. Haynes, ©National Fire Protection Association; earlier data from prior reports. www.nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics.

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  • In 2014 property loss from intentionally set structure fires increased 6.2 percent from 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association, although the number of fires fell 15.6 percent.
  • Intentionally set fires in vehicles fell 23.8 percent in 2014. The property loss from those fires rose 34.9 percent to $116 million in 2014.
  • The property loss from all intentionally set fires (structures and vehicles) amounted to $729 million in 2014, up 10 percent from $663 million in 2013.