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The Truth About Arson

NCJ Number
NFPA Journal Volume: 92 Issue: 6 Dated: November 1998 Pages: 59-67
John R. Hall Jr.
Date Published
November 1998
9 pages
This article examines arson and suspected arson, the largest single cause of property damage due to fire in the United States.
In 1996, the last year for which any national statistics are available, known incendiary and suspicious structure fires resulted in an estimated $1.405 billion in damage and 520 civilian deaths. Incendiary and suspicious vehicle fires added another $202 million to the damage total. The article presents statistics and discussion regarding outdoor fires; arson by property type and area of origin; arson and suspected arson structure fires by community size; arson and the criminal justice system; and motives, convictions, and sentences. Loss due to arson and suspected arson in structures has declined from its peak in 1980. While reasons for the trend are not yet known, four factors should be considered: (1) Wider use of sophisticated investigative techniques may be giving a more accurate picture of fire cause profiles; (2) Wider use of anti-arson programs may be producing real reductions in the arson problem; (3) Whatever has caused the downward trend in numbers of fires in structures may also have caused the trends in the number of incendiary and suspicious structure fires; and (4) There may be trends in the general population that make arson less likely. Figures, tables, references


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