Fire Prevention 52: Reducing Residential Arson

Arson Sign on a fence

National Arson Awareness Week

Each year, the U.S. Fire Administration and partners set aside a week in May to observe National Arson Awareness Week, a public service campaign that educates the public about arson fires. "Reducing Residential Arson," a recent campaign theme, focuses attention on residential arson and offers educational information to communities and firefighters to reduce the occurrence of this crime.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, arson is the "willful or malicious burning of property... especially with criminal or fraudulent intent." The causes of arson are diverse, from vandalism to youthful curiosity, concealment of other crimes, revenge, and insurance fraud. Unfortunately, arson is not uncommon and results in 16,800 residential building fires annually in the United States, causing 280 deaths, 775 injuries, and $593 million in property loss.

Resources can be found on the U.S. Fire Administration website.

Fire Info for You

Employees
From campfires to fireworks, children are naturally curious about all kinds of fires. Talk with your children about the dangers of playing with fire and teach them to be safe around common household fire sources, such as candles, matches, lighters, stovetops, fireplaces, and campfires.

Review the U.S. Fire Administration's outreach materials on arson.

Firefighters
Review your training on protecting fire scene evidence that may assist investigators in determining the cause of a fire. Removing or destroying critical evidence during fire response can compromise investigations.

Pieces of the Puzzle: Preservation at Fire Scenes, an article on Firehouse.com, offers suggestions on fire scene preservation to new and seasoned firefighters from the perspective of a fire investigator.

Park Structural Fire Coordinators
Unoccupied structures and buildings that are used seasonally in the NPS are at risk for arson. Ensure that suppression and detection systems already installed in these buildings are working correctly.

Park Leadership
Update call-out lists for emergency response regularly to ensure that contacts and their phone numbers are current. Time spent searching for personnel on an outdated list could result in an arson suspect fleeing before being apprehended.

Take Action

  1. Store matches and lighters in a locked, hard-to-reach cabinet. Children always seem to find these items, even in the best hiding places. There is no substitute for a lock and key.
  2. Ask your neighbors to keep an eye on your house when you are out of town. They will be able to report any suspicious activity.

NPS Fire Facts

In 2011, arson resulted in significant damage to the Dunlap House, a historic home that was once occupied by Union troops during the Battle of Dunlap Hill in 1864. Located in Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, the residence is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fortunately, the fire detection system activated and alerted the local fire department of the fire. During initial attack, firefighters noticed an individual watching the fire attentively and notified fire investigators and law enforcement personnel. The suspect was arrested and found guilty of two felonies: first-degree arson and felony burglary. The individual was sentenced to 20 years in prison.