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What is arson?

Arson is considered a very serious crime, with most states categorizing it as a felony offense. Not only can it destroy property, it can also take lives in the process. Justia.com explains the different elements of arson and how perpetrators of this crime are usually punished by the law.

It’s important to understand the difference between arson and accidental fires related to negligence. In order for a fire to be considered arson it must be enacted with malicious intent. For instance, a person failing to turn off a stove or sparking a flame while smoking can’t be charged with arson, even if their actions lead to the destruction of property.

Arson was originally defined as setting fire to another person’s dwelling. This definition has been expanded to include a person’s own dwelling as well as commercial structures. In terms of setting fire to one’s own property, this usually occurs as a result of insurance fraud, where the perpetrator aims to make a false insurance claim to receive a financial payout. Additionally, smoke or water damage caused by a fire intentionally set also constitutes arson, as does an attempt to set a fire that never actually comes to fruition.   

Arson can be categorized as a primary or secondary fire (depending on the state where the crime occurs). Primary fires take place in buildings that are actively being used, such as occupied homes or businesses. Conversely, secondary fires occur in unoccupied buildings or spread from primary fires to impact other property. On its own arson is subject to jail time and fines. If there is loss of life involved life in prison is a possible punishment. If arson is accompanied by insurance fraud, jail terms can be as much as ten years or more.

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