Report: NFPA's "Intentional Fires" (PDF, 2 MB)
Author: Richard Campbell
An analysis on intentional fires reported to municipal fire departments. Includes information on structure, vehicle, and outside intentional fires, when and where these fires occur, and arrest and clearance information.
During 2007-2011, an estimated 282,600 intentional fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year, with associated annual losses of 420 civilian deaths, 1,360 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. Outside or unclassified fires accounted for three-quarters (75%) of these incidents, while 18% involved structures, and 7% were vehicle fires.
Despite representing one-fifth (18%) of all intentional fires, structure fires accounted for 92% of civilian deaths, 84% of civilian injuries, and 86% of direct property damage caused by intentional fires. Sixty-three percent of intentional structure fires occurred in residential properties, 6% occurred in storage facilities, 4% occurred in educational properties, 4% occurred in mercantile or business properties, and 3% occurred in public assembly properties.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of intentional structure fires occurred in structures that are occupied and operating, and these fires account for most of the associated losses. Fourteen percent occurred in vacant, unsecured properties, and 8% in vacant, secured properties. The most common item first ignited in intentional structure fires was rubbish, trash or waste, but a disproportionate share of the property damage resulted from fires beginning with flammable or combustible liquids or gases, (possibly accelerants).
Half (51%) of intentionally set home structure fires occurred between 3:00 p.m. and midnight. Lighters (27%) and matches (23%) were the most common heat source in intentional home fires. The most common area of origin in intentional home structure fires was the bedroom (12% of these fires). In educational properties, more than half (56%) of intentionally set structure fires began in the bathroom. In storage properties, the garage was the most common specified area of origin (24% of fires), and in mercantile or business properties the most common specified area of origin was the bathroom (8% of fires).
Outside or unclassified fires accounted for 75% of intentionally set fires. In this report, outside trash or rubbish fires are often listed separately from other outside and unclassified fires. This is because outside trash and rubbish fires have limited reporting requirements. Nearly one-third (30%) of outside or unclassified fires began in a lawn, field or other open area. Matches were the heat source in two out of five (38%) of these fires, and a lighter was the heat source in 22%. Light vegetation, including grass, was the item first ignited in half (28%) of the fires.
In intentionally set vehicle fires, the most common items first ignited were flammable or combustible liquids or gases, piping or filter (29%) and vehicle seats (28%). The most common heat sources were matches (24% of fires), lighters (16%) and incendiary devices (13%).
According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States, one in five (19%) of arson cases were cleared by arrest or exceptional means, and two out of five of the individuals arrested for arson were under 18 years of age.
Additional resources, including a free downloadable presentation on preventing arson can be found at www.nfpa.org/arson.