Arson Awareness Week

Motive-Based Offender Analysis of Serial Arsonists Next: Joint Fire/Police Teams & Arson Task Forces »

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Many communities across the country are experiencing a rash of serial arson-related fires. Serial arson is defined as an offense committed by firesetters who set three or more fires with a significant cooling off period between the fires. These types of fires plague many rural and urban communities and cause significant loss of life and millions of dollars in property damage; this adds to the suffering being caused by the current economic climate. Serial arsonists generally set fires for the same reason as other arsonists.

Read the Report: A Motive-Based Offender Analysis of Serial Arsonists »

Abstract: This study was a joint effort between the Department of Justice, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration. The research was conducted by the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). The project was designed to help arson investigators and prosecutors convict arsonists. Specifically, the project was implemented to identify common characteristics and motives of serial arsonists.

The NCAVC classifies arson motives into six categories: vandalism, excitement, revenge, crime concealment, profit, and extremist. Each motivation is examined and explained in this study. A case history of an arsonist is provided for each type of motivation. NCAVC also conducted research on pyromania as a motive for arson. Their research argues that pyromania may not exist. The American Psychological Association concludes that a pyromaniac cannot be psychotic. If this is true than a fire setter understands the difference between right and wrong. The irresistible impulse supposed pyromaniacs claim to have may simply be an impulse they choose not to resist.

The study focuses a section on characteristics of arsonists. The attributes and life histories of arsonists were studies for possible similarities. Age, sex, race, education level, and previous criminal histories were examined for connections. The study found most arsonists were white males around the age of 27, with a tenth grade level education and almost all had prior arrests and convictions.

The last section presents the information from the study that is of immediate value to fire investigators. This section is organized by motive classification for easy reference by fire investigations.