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Basic Information

Arson is a crime involving the intentional and malicious burning of property, including private property such as cars and buildings and public property such as woodland areas. Various motivations for arson exist, such as terrorism, defrauding insurance companies, and pyromania. Arson as a crime has existed for thousands of years, due to many older cities using wood as a primary building material and the close proximity of other nearby structures; however, accelerants such as gasoline , kerosene, and alcohol are now used to help catch fire to less flammable materials. A lesser charge, known as reckless burning, constitutes the illegal burning of small objects such as leaves or trash, and is typically considered an act of vandalism.

The punishment for arson is, in most countries, divided into three categories based on the intent of the crime and the time of day it was committed, but will occasionally vary based on whether occupants are present or the cost of the destroyed property. Common definitions include:

  • First-degree arson - The burning or assistance to the burning of any property which lead to the death or serious injury of an occupant; also likely to have happened at night. Charges are typically greater than 30 years.
  • Second-degree arson - The burning or assistance to the burning of any property which lead to serious property damage, potential threats to nearby persons, or in close proximity to other property. Charges typically vary between 3-25 years.
  • Third-degree arson - The burning or assistance to the burning of any structure with an intent to defraud an insurer thereof, or other low-threat arson intentions. Charges are typically under 15 years.

The actual definition of arson is often more lenient than the malicious intent to burn property, and may sometimes stem from the negligent behavior of others despite the threat of fire. This is very often drug-related, such as the manufacturing of methamphetamine, moonshine, or even the negligent discarding of burned and inhaled narcotics such as cigarettes or marijuana joints.

Historical authorities, faced with wooden cities that were very prone to burn down in the face of uncontrolled fire, reacted very badly indeed to arson, up to and including burning arsonists alive or roasting them in various ways.

A history of arson and general fire raising is also typical amongst the sort of sociopath who ends up becoming a serial killer.

For those planning a police/forensic game, minor fire raising can become case-worthy in a variety of ways - gas cylinders in rubbish piles can explode and/or eject into things, burning skips can turn out to contain bodies: was the corpse dead before the fire started? Do they have further relevance1?

Methods of arson are usually interesting - a fire started with newspaper and matches is one thing, accelerants such as petrol another and by the time the arsonist starts using thermite or white phosphorous things have become a bit alarming. Likewise, timer devices and such speak of a greater level of professionalism and intent than someone who lights a flammable object by hand and runs away.

An interesting - and potentially annoying - modern trend appears to be rural arson - fire raising in the countryside. Some of this is negligent as a result of bad campcraft, but there seems to be a potential increase in deliberate fire starting. Motives vary as usual - from simple mental disorder, to the desire to cause economic harm (and/or loss of life) to destroying protected habitats that stand in the way of developement.

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • An exponential number of uses, specifically relating to high fantasy games with a plentiful amount of wooden towns.
    • Even in the modern era riots tend to involve arson - in an era of wooden architecture, this becomes far more serious.
  • A pyromancer may be an obvious culprit for arson.
    • Or the perfect scapegoat.
    • Escaped fire elementals are not a good thing in a wooden city. And not much fun in a brick built one either.
  • Entire maps or game directions can be changed by an act of arson - what if the capitol of the country were to burn down?
    • And, with that in mind, arson is the perfect means of hiding the existence of any culture or history you don't want the world acknowledging anymore.
    • Burning down other people's cities (or indeed your own) is also well acknowledged - from the Russian's burning Moscow in the face of Napoleon's army to the near contemporary tit-for-tat city burnings of the Anglo-American War … although whether an act of war can count as arson or not is open for question.
    • Of course, as in the case of London a great fire can be the perfect excuse for rebuilding an organically grown mess of a city into something with a vestige of urban planning. As in Nero's case, these fires may be started deliberately by the government … and then blamed on someone else.
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