Arson Awareness Week

Reducing Residential Arson: Recent Arson Incidents Next: Arson Facts

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Curiosity

In March 2013, a six-year-old Oregon boy destroyed his home while playing with matches. The boy and his grandparents barely escaped as smoke filled their mobile home. No charges were filed. The young boy received counseling and fire safety education.

Concealing Another Crime and Arson for Profit

In September 2012, a Wisconsin man was intent on burning his entire family and his home for two insurance policy payouts. Working with his brother, the pair lit crumbled newspaper under the man’s pregnant wife’s bed. The wife woke up and left the burning house with her two-year-old daughter. Their three sons perished in the blaze. Both men face homicide and arson charges. The man was convicted of three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and felony murder and arson, which carries a mandatory life sentence. He also testified against his brother. The man was given three life sentences.

Arson to Cover Up Murder

photo of burned out apartment

An Idaho man pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges for killing his wife and unborn child and to first-degree arson for setting their apartment on fire. Photo: ATF

In August 2010, an Idaho man was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and arson in the death of his pregnant wife and their unborn infant. Local authorities asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to join the investigation days after the incident.

During the investigation, ATF investigators determined that the fire was incendiary in nature and that it started in a northwest bedroom. After he was presented with the results of ATF’s investigation, the defendant pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges for killing his wife and unborn child and to first-degree arson for setting their apartment on fire. Before he was sentenced, the defendant apologized for killing his wife and child in 2009, but he did not explain why he committed the crimes.

Arson for Profit

In December 2011, a California couple wanted to burn down their rickety home for insurance money. They hired someone to burn their house down. Unfortunately, the hired arsonist was an amateur, and after he spread dangerously large amounts of gasoline around the place, he accidently blew up the house killing himself in the process. The husband received 14 years and four months in state prison for insurance fraud, manslaughter for the death of the arsonist, and arson. His wife received six years for fraud.

Arson for Profit

In January 2011, in an effort to bail himself out of crushing debt and failed business ventures, a man in rural New York state burned down a rental house he owned hoping to receive a windfall $277,000 insurance payout. Seeing the blaze, the woman who was renting the house dashed back in to rescue her cat. She perished in the smoke and flames. His arson turned to murder. An accelerant detection dog found where the man had poured the gasoline in the rubble. The man’s mounting debt and other evidence assisted the police with the conviction that resulted in a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for his murderous arson.

Arson Attack Against Former Girlfriend

Colorado Springs apartment complex after an arson fire

A Colorado man was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for setting fire to this Colorado Springs apartment complex and killing two residents. Photo: ATF

In 2009, a Colorado man was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for setting fire to a Colorado Springs apartment complex and killing two residents. The January 2007 fire destroyed the entire 135-unit, three-story facility, injured numerous other residents, and resulted in at least $10 million in damages.

Given the scope of the fire, the ATF National Response Team was called in to investigate the scene by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations and the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Prosecutors said the cause of the fire was incendiary and stated that the defendant started the fire in an attempt to kill his former girlfriend who lived at the complex.

During the investigation, ATF’s Fire Research Laboratory constructed a multiple-story, full-scale mock-up of one wing of the building and ran a series of test “burns” to determine the likely area where the fire started. The FRL conducted numerous computer simulations to provide insight into the behavior of the fire inside the building. At the conclusion of their investigation, ATF personnel stated that the fire started just outside the apartment where the defendant’s former girlfriend was staying.

Revenge

In June 2009, a Maine man set fire to a coffee shop in jealous revenge because his former girlfriend was dating the coffee shop owner. The man was convicted and received the maximum sentence of 30 years because the fire was set after midnight, 10 gallons of gasoline were used as an accelerant, and people were living in the building at the time.