Arson

Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to a building, car or other property for fraudulent or malicious purposes. It is a crime in all states. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were about 23,000 fires intentionally set in 2015, an increase of 21.1 percent over the year before.  

Intentionally set fires in structures resulted in 205 civilian deaths in 2015, an increase of 30.6 percent from 2014.

A 1982 study by the Insurance Research Council found that about 14 percent of arson cases are insurance-motivated.

Once a major problem in the 1990s, church arsons have dropped significantly. Intentional fires in religious and funeral properties fell 82 percent from 1,320 in 1980 to 240 in 2002, the last year 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.

The U.S. Fire Administration determined arson to also be a leading cause of wildfires. 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. 

Intentionally Set Fires, 2006-2015

 

  Structures Vehicles (2)
Year Number of fires Property loss
($ millions) (1)
Number of fires Property loss
($ millions)
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
2015 23,000 460 10,000 74

(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: Reproduced with permission from Fire Loss in the United States During 2015 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 2015 property loss from intentionally set structure fires decreased 25 percent from 2014, according to the National Fire Protection Association, although the number of fires rose 21 percent.
  • Intentionally set fires in vehicles rose 25.0 percent in 2015. At the same time the property loss from those fires fell 36.2 percent.
  • The property loss from all intentionally set fires (structures and vehicles) amounted to $534 million in 2015, down 26.7 percent from $729 million in 2014.