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Pyro-Terrorism: The Threat of Arson-Induced Forest Fires as a Future Terrorist Weapon of Mass Destruction

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Volume: 29 Issue: 5 Dated: July-August 2006 Pages: 415-428
Robert Arthur Baird
Date Published
July 2006
14 pages
This article discusses the threat of pyro-terrorism and examines methods to mitigate the threat.
Pyro-terrorism is defined as the use of incendiary attacks to intimidate or coerce a government or civilian population. A historical analysis of terrorism indicates that terrorist strategies are incorporating the use of more simplistic destructive methods, like arson. Examples of past terrorist attacks with arson and their devastating impacts are presented, including examples of pyro-terrorism attacks in the United States and abroad, such as the wave of arson attacks experienced by Israel at the hands of the Palestinians in April 2004, which was dubbed “Arson Intifada.” The September 11, 2001, terrorism attack on the World Trade Center is examined in terms of the impact of the improvised incendiary device, the airplanes, on the structural integrity of the buildings. The fire that resulted from the airplanes crashing into the towers softened the integral steel support columns which ultimately resulted in the total collapse of the towers. America’s vulnerabilities to wildfire as a terrorist weapon during past wars are also examined, including the psychological impact pyro-terrorism has had on the American population and the armed forces, whose attention and resources must be averted to controlling fires. The San Diego Fire Storms of 2003 are presented as a contemporary example of current vulnerabilities to wildfire terrorism and the potential for future pyro-terrorism attacks on local populations and regionally based U.S. military forces. Methods to mitigate the threat of pyro-terrorism are considered and include the development of an all-discipline incident management plan to create unity of command. 3 figures, 46 notes


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