Arson Awareness Week Focuses On For-Profit Blazes

The United States Fire Administration announces this year’s Arson Awareness Week theme -- Arson for Profit. The USFA has partnered with the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the International Association of Arson Investigators.

The goal of this year’s Arson Awareness week, which started Sunday, is to focus public attention on arson for profit. By drawing people’s at¬tention to the alarming statistics about arson for profit, the USFA hope to expand the resources and support neces¬sary to reduce this crime.

"Each year firefighters and innocent civilians are needlessly put in danger, injured and killed as a result of arson fires," said Glenn A. Gaines, Acting United States Fire Administrator. "We are pleased to partner with the law enforcement community on efforts to reduce the crime of arson."

There are many motives for arson -- the crime of deliberately and maliciously set¬ting fire. Arson for profit, or economic arson, is when businesses or individuals set fires to reduce financial loss, recoup initial investments, or dispose of depreci¬ated assets usually for a payout from insurance com¬panies.

Arson for profit is insurance fraud, a criminal meth¬od of obtaining money from a fire loss policy. The losses for arson are staggering.

Arson fires do not always do what they are told, es¬pecially when set by amateurs. The blazes often leave clues that send the arsonists to jail for years. Arson fires also can spread fast, sometimes burning adjacent properties and even killing or injuring innocent onlookers -- and the insurance crooks themselves.

"Arson is a costly crime that's being fanned by the flames of recession. Firefighters and innocent families are endangered when desperate people illegally torch their homes, businesses and cars for insurance bailouts," according to Dennis Jay, Executive Director, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. "Arson also is raising insurance premiums at a time of great stress on honest people's pocketbooks. All Americans are victims of arson, and we all must work to ensure fewer arson matches are ever lit."

According to the Insurance Information Institute, arsonists destroyed nearly $900 million in insured property and killed 295 civilians nationwide in 2007.

An Insurance Research Council study indicates that only 14 percent of arson suspects are motivated by a desire to defraud an insurance company, but other studies find the percentage is higher.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2005, an estimated 323,900 intentional fires reported to U.S. fire departments resulted in 490 civilian fire deaths, three firefighter on duty deaths (at the scene of, during response or return to, or from an intentional fire), 1,500 civilian fire injuries, 7,600 firefighter onduty injuries (at the scene of an intentional fire but not including response/return injuries) and $1.102 billion in direct property dam¬age.

The FBI’s 2007 Uniform Crime Reporting statistics showed that 14,197 law enforcement agencies reported 64,332 arsons. Arsons involving structures (residen¬tial, storage, public, etc.) accounted for 42.9 percent of the total number of arson offenses. Mobile prop¬erty (cars, motorcycles, etc.) was involved in 27.9 percent of arsons, and other types of property (such as crops, timber, fences, etc.) accounted for 29.2 per¬cent of reported arsons.

The average dollar loss for all types of arson was $17,289. For structures, arson damages were $32,364 on average and $7,890 for motor vehicles. Arsons of industrial and manufacturing structures resulted in the highest average dollar losses -- an av¬erage of $114,699 per arson.

The FBI’s UCR Program defines arson as any willful or malicious burning or attempting to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc. The rate of arson was 24.7 offenses for every 100,000 inhabitants of the Unit¬ed States in 2007. Arson rates were highest in cities with populations of 250,000 or more, at 40.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. The arson rate for suburban areas was 18.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The USFA’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) states the two leading causes of civilian deaths are arson, at 28 percent, and smoking, at 18 percent. Arson is, by far, the leading cause of property loss, at 26 percent. Arson is an enormous problem in the United States, especially to outside and nonresidential structure properties. For more information about Arson Awareness Week, visit http://www.usfa.dhs.gov.

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