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