Arson is a serious problem in the United States, being the number one cause of all fires, the number two cause of fire death and the cause of over one billion dollars of damage every year. Webster defines arson as “ The crime of maliciously burning somebody else’s building or property or of burning one’s own to get insurance money.” Arson is thought of as an insurance concern, an invisible “paper lose” by the general populace, but for the firefighters who have been injured or killed responding to set fires and the hundreds of civilians killed each year in incendiary or suspicious building fires, arson looms as a significant issue that is anything but invisible.
Arson is the malicious or fraudulent burning of property. A fire I a fireplace is a constructive fire, it is built to provide warmth and comfort. However a fire set in a pile of leaves by a group of children is a malicious fire, as is a fire set by a business owner in the back of his store to collect on an insurance policy. While many people think of arson only in terms of fires involving large property or life loss, a small set fire is equally an act of arson.
The United States has one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world at 14.5deaths per million population. In 2000 4,045 Americans lost their life to fire, and 102 firefighters were killed in duty related incidents. 110,000 incidents of arson were reported to law enforcements in the United States in 1997. That is 41 reported arsons for every 100,000 United States residents. Arson rates were highest in cities (87 per 100,000) and lowest in rural areas (18 per 100,000). The average reported financial loss in arsons reported in 1997 was $11,300. 50% of arson occurs outdoors, 30% in structures, and 20% in vehicles. In the year 2000 an estimated 75,000 arson fires occurred, which accounted for 14.8% of all structural fires, amounting to 1.3 billion dollars in property damage which represents 15.7% of all structure property loss. 46,000 vehicle fires were considered arson in the year 2000. Of the 75,000 reported arson offences in the year 2000, offenders were 86% male, 54% were less than 18 years of age, 70% were under 25, 74% were white, 24% were black, and other races make up the remaining percentage.
Arsonists will target vacant or abandoned buildings. When repair costs exceed revenue, building owners may abandon property and default on the mortgage. Banks are reluctant to assume responsibility for property up keep. So it is left “as is”, the buildings then become sanctuaries for drug dealers and other criminals who loot property for anything of value. Arsonists finish the job, often to conceal other crimes. Such “blighted buildings” are a wide spread problem through out the United States. An example of how severe a problem these buildings are is when 6 fire fighters from Worcester, Massachusetts were killed in an abandoned cold storage warehouse. In May of 2000, widows of three of the dead fire fighters filed lawsuits against warehouse owners, alleging that their negligence in maintaining the building ultimately led to their husband’s deaths. Neighborhood groups working with government agencies, fire departments, banks, insurance companies, and other related agencies have developed programs to help fight arson problems. These programs may include, finding new owners for abandoned buildings, and assisting the new owners in renovating them, providing financial advice to homeowners, organizing media campaigns to alert the public to the problem, organizing and participating in fire prevention education, and providing and installing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Communities such as Bridgeport, Connecticut, have developed an ordinance to start to deal with problems of abandoned buildings. Once the property owners building has been identified as “blighted”, owners are fined daily until the structure is brought into compliance or demolished....
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