Author: Subhi Mathur

School of Legal Studies, Babu Bnaarasi Das University, Lucknow.

ISSN: 2581-8465


In this Paper you will come to know about the arson and the psychology of the arsonist to perform such crime. Arson means to deliberately burn someone else’s property with criminal or fraudulent intent. Most people considered it as burning of the building but it also includes burning of car, boats, land, personal property, etc. The person who attempts arson is known as Arsonist. In India, it is well mentioned in IPC1. Arson may also be prosecuted as criminal mischief, destruction of property and misdemeanor. The punishment for a serious arson to kill or to harm someone is to bring a life sentence and in other situations, the sentence is from one to 20 years, a few examples of Arson2,3. According to Psychologists, many mentally ill arsonists set heavy fire than the non mentally ill group. The main motive of the arsonists is to destroy or conceal the evidence of a crime. Another reason might be to set fire to business records to conceal evidence of embezzlement. The main reason for arson can be of collecting arson money.

Section 435 of IPC states that “Whoever commits mischief by fire or any explosive substance intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, damage to any property to the amount of one hundred rupees or upwards[1] [or (where the property is agricultural produce) ten rupees or upwards], shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

  1. Section 435 and 436 of IPC
  2. The Sydney Ghost Train Fire 9 June,1979.
  3. The Upstairs Lounge Fire 24 June, 1973. 

Arson: – Intention of Arsonist


According to Law, Arson is defined as a deliberately, willfully or maliciously burning or charring someone else’s property. Arson may also be defined as intentionally burning their own property either to conceal the evidence of a crime or to conceal the business trade’s embezzlement. In India, Arson is mentioned in IPC section 435 and 4361. According to section any person who burns anyone’s property of more than the value of  ₹100 and agricultural property of the value more than  ₹10 shall be liable for an imprisonment of 7years or more and shall also be liable for the fine.

Cases of Arson: – The most excruciating way of killing someone is to burn him alive. For this reason, arson is the most terrible way of a crime. Unfortunately finding an arsonist and bringing him to the court of justice is never an easy duty. It is always difficult to determine whether an act is done by arson or not and to bring out the guilt of the arsonists. The following cases take the lives of innocent people.

  • THE SYDNEY GHOST TRAIN FIRE – In this case, Luna Park Sydney a park in Sydney that has a train ride that is known as “Ghost Train” become the tool of arson for arsonists. That train gradually got burn and kill 7 victims. It was previously believed that the reason for burning is a technical problem. Further, in this case, it was found that Abe Saffron’s uncle of Anne Buckingham was responsible for train fire to gain control over the park’s lease.
  • THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE FIRE – The upstairs lounge was the only gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans located on the second floor of a building. The bar immediately caught fire and kill 32 victims. Further, it was suspected that a local hustler Rodger Nunez was responsible for the fire but it is not yet proved.

Elements of Arson: –

According to Common Law, there are few elements whose presence is mandatory to determine fire is caused by arson.

These elements are –

  • Malicious
  • Burning
  • Of a dwelling
  • Belonging to another

Degree of Arson:

Different countries define the different degrees of arson depending on the circumstances of the volume of the act. It is based on the factor like whether the building was in possession at the time of the fire or it was done with the fraud intent. Another factor that can be taken into consideration can be damages done by the crime.

Common Degree of Arson includes: –

  • First Degree Arson – Act when a person sets fire to the building or home which is in possession.
  • Second Degree Arson – Act in which a person sets fire to any empty or abandon structure.
  • Third-degree Arson – Act in which a person sets fire to an empty abandon area such as a field.

The intention of an Arsonist:

The intention of an arsonist calculates upon the degree of damages he had done. Mostly the intent of the arsonist is to either conceal facts of embezzlement and evidence or out of jealousy and fraud. Here are some of the intentions of arsonists to set fire.

  1. Aggravated Arson: – In many states aggravated arson is treated as a “first-degree arson”. Aggravated arson was in a charge takes into account such as whether the accused anticipated a person being at the building when the accused started the fire. The main motive of the aggravated arson is malicious intent. The intent may be because of anger, financial distress, and many other issues. The other reason for aggravated arson is burning a building for the insurance settlement or to harm the other person, or to create the fear.

For eg., A person who has to pay 10,000Rs of debt and he doesn’t have enough money. He remembered that his factory’s insurance that he is paying for the last few years has become 1,00,000Rs. so he burns his own factory to get the insurance money. It was held that the person would not get the insurance money because of Aggravated Arson.

  • Reckless Arson: – Arson can also be explained as intentionally setting up of fire. Arson may also include recklessly destruction of property by fire.

For Eg. Rishi and his friends went for a picnic in a park on a sunny day. There were signing boards indicating  “Fires are prohibited”. The friends decided to have a small campfire to roast a few fishes even though they know that fire is prohibited in that park. After the fire has been started the wind makes the dry leaves catching fire and burning out of control. The group later arrested for recklessly making the campfire.

  • Accidental Arson: – Every fire does not cause intentionally by the people it is sometimes caused by mistake as well and that will come under accidental arson. Sometimes fire started by itself even the person is being careful.

For eg., Meera was cooking in the kitchen for her family. While cooking a few warm oil spill over her hand her quick reaction make the oil spill on the open flame. Suddenly the fire gets caught by the curtain. Meera makes to get everyone out of the house carefully but the house got burn beyond repairs. But it will not be regarded as arson as her intention was not to fire the house that was by accident.

In the above cases, it was the duty of the investigator to determine whether it was caused by accident or by intentionally. If the investigator is not able to determine the origin or cannot determine the cause of fire it is treated as suspicious and continues with the investigation. For a person to be treated as convicted there should be a reason beyond the doubts. It is not an easy task. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prove that the fire was executed intentionally.

Arson Investigation: – The investigation of arson is started when the firefighters are called on the affected scene, then he followed the protocol. They observe the scene, review it personally, take the physical evidence and enquire the witnesses.

Some important elements in the investigation of the argon are: –

  • Colour of smoke and Flame: – Various substances and accelerants produce a different color of the smoke and flame.
  • Alarms and Sprinklers: – It was observed that whether the alarms and fire extinguisher were located on the property. It was also observed whether these were disabled before the fire or not.
  • Speed of the fire: – It is also observed that how quickly speed of the flame spread, indicates the use of accelerant.
  • Suspects at the Fire: – It was suspected with the witnesses presented that they saw the familiar faces at the time of the fire.
  • Removal of Property: – It was observed that whether the important, valuable and sentimental things were removed before the fire or not to know the intention of the fire.

Insurance Fraud in Arson: – It is very common to set fire to his/her own property to get their insurance money. It is the main reason that insurance companies give higher weight to arson investigation and even employ their own arson investigators. Insurance fraud happens in both residential as well as official arson. A person found guilty of insurance fraud and have to pay higher cost additionally will be liable for insurance fraud as well as arson.

For eg., Ram has a shop in the market. The shop needs renovation and repair. Ram doesn’t have enough money to repair the shop. He was paying insurance money for the last 15years and that has become 1,00,000Rs. now. He decided to burn his own factory to get the insurance money. The investigator investigate and found that the fire was set intentionally. Held that Ram intentionally set fire to create an insurance fraud. So here he will be liable for both Insurance fraud and Arson.

Punishment for Arson: – Different countries have different sentences for a person to face if he commits arson. While punishment for arson varies by jurisdictions. It was given by taking in mind the intention of the arson. Whether it was done intentionally or by an accident. Whether it was done to create insurance fraud or it result to kill someone.

For eg. in California, the sentences handed down for an arson conviction include:

  1. Arson that causes bodily injury is punishable by imprisonment for five, seven, or nine years.
  2. Arson that involves an inhabited structure is punishable by imprisonment for three, five, or eight years.
  3. Arson of a structure or forest land is punishable by imprisonment for two, four, or six years.

In many countries, if a person commits the crime of arson and it results in the death of a person. It is known as felonious murder in many countries even if the fire was not set intentionally.

For eg., Ravi started a fire in his neighbor’s field after he had an argument with his neighbor. He thought that his neighbor is out of the city. Slowly the fire caught by the house. And Ravi’s neighbor was inside the house but Ravi had no idea about it and his neighbor died. Held that he will still be liable for the murder because death was the result of his intentional setting up of fire.

Additional Punishment for Arson: – In addition to imprisonment, if a person found guilty of arson may be fined or will be ordered to pay compensation. This is mainly calculated by the value of damages.

For eg., If Radha burned a building of 5,00,00 then she has to pay the whole amount to the owner.

If a person additionally commits any other crime with the arson, he will be additionally liable for the other penalties.

For eg. Raman enters into someone else house forcefully and steals all the valuable items from the house and puts the house on fire to conceal the evidence of the crime. Then he will be liable for: –

  1. Larceny:- Act of stealing someone else’s important and valuable property.
  2. Breaking and Entering: – Using force to enter someone else’s property without the permission of the owner.
  3. Arson: – Maliciously or Intentionally setting up of Fire in someone else’s property or building.

Arson Statistics: – Even though the penalties of arson are rigid, still it is the most committed crime. Some statistics and facts about arson are: –

  1. The burning of the building covers 45% of the arson.
  2. Burning of other property includes 29% of arson offenses.
  3. The average loss per arson accounts for $17,000.
  4. In the U.S.A, there is 20 arson per 100,000 people.
  5. 65% of arson include burning of building or homes.
  6. Half of the burning of buildings or homes takes place either in the evening or nighttime hours.
  7. From the year 2007 to the year 2011, 420 people died due to arson whereas 1360 people suffered injuries.
  8. 2-5 people charged with arson are under the age of 18.

The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI): – The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) are a group of people used to aid in fire investigation. They also help in providing resources like research, latest technology, and training to the fire investigator and fire departments around the world. As the statistics in 2014, there were around 8,000 people in the U.S.A. In addition to giving resources to the investigator department, the organization also helps the people impacted by arson.

How to prevent Arson in your Community: –

  • Arson robs the community’s valuable assets, lives, and property. Arson destroys more than buildings. It can destroy community resulting in the decline of the neighborhood with loss of business revenue, decrease in property value and increased in insurance premium.
  • Communities can develop a watch program with localities by communicating with business leaders, churches, law enforcement, etc.
  • The neighborhood can reduce arson occurring by promoting educating and by spreading awareness about the unusual activities in their locality, by increasing neighborhood watches, and by implementing security inside and outside the home, etc.
  • Clean up all the garbage, material and excess vegetation that is capable of catching fire.
  • Remove all possible sources that are capable of being ignited. For eg. Flammable liquid and Unused gas containers.
  • Remove abandoned Vehicles. According to NFPA, there is an average rate of arson through vehicles are 25,328. Most cars is used as arson to cover up a criminal activity or as an act of vandalism. 
  • Secure abandoned homes which can be a target of arson.

Determining Arson Motives: –

We need to determine the motive of the arson to narrow the investigation of arson. Observation of offender behavior at the arson scene can identify the motivation for the crime. REMEMBER: Motive is not an element of the offense and need not be proven to obtain a conviction for arson. Evidence of participation by a defendant is required to prove an arson case. However, evidence of motive is admissible and can help a jury answer the question, “Why?”

A. The investigator should study the victimology of the fire scene.

  1. Who is exactly the Victim – Insurance Company, Church, Owner, Society, Government, etc.
  2. Reason for Arson – Assess victim and offender risk. What characteristics of the victim make it a target?
  3. Offenders use rational criteria to select targets even when the fire setting behavior makes no sense. The offender decides if the fire setting is “profitable” (meets his needs) and the risk is acceptable.

B. This initial assessment should assist the investigator in determining the motivation for the arson. The primary motivation for all violent crimes is POWER. Power is defined as the ability or capacity to exercise control over others. When we think about it, unleashing the devastating fury of an uncontrolled fire is a tremendous exercise in power. We break the power motivation into 4 categories. They are:

1. Obtaining power

2. Demonstrating power

3. Maintaining power

4. Acquiring lost power

C. We can further identify motives that meet the individual offender’s need for power. These motives are:

1. Vandalism

a. This motive is sometimes called “malicious mischief” and helps identify the type of offender – juveniles. REMEMBER, however, mental age and chronological age do not necessarily correspond.

b. Maybe the result of peer or group pressure.

c. Typical targets include schools, abandoned buildings, and vegetation.

2. Crime Concealment

a. This is secondary or collateral criminal activity

b. Usually, a fire is set to cover up the primary crime; murder, burglary, auto theft, destruction or theft of records, etc.

c. The offender is trying to impede the investigation by

(1) Obscure the fact that the primary crime has occurred

(2) Destroying forensic evidence of the lead value

(3) Delay or prevent identification of the victim

3. Extremist

a. Further social, political, or religious causes.

b. Targets include abortion clinics, houses of worship, government buildings, laboratories, and fur farms.

c. Frequently accompanied by a communication claiming responsibility and espousing the cause embraced by the perpetrators.

4. Profit

Direct monetary gain includes

(1) Insurance fraud

(2) Liquidating property

(3) Dissolving a business

(4) Destroying unprofitable inventory

b. Indirect monetary gain can include

(1) Creating employment

(2) Eliminating competition

(3) Remodel old property

5. Excitement – nuisance type fires such as dumpsters, recycling bins, trash piles; targets of opportunity; may escalate as fire setting no longer provides enough excitement. Several types:

a. Thrills (most common excitement motive) – enjoys the turmoil created by fire setting

b. Recognition (hero) – firefighter, police officer, security guard, employee

c. Attention – excited by idea everyone is looking for him

d. Sexual gratification – unusual and usually present with other motives

6. Revenge

a. The most common motive for a serial arsonist (NCAVC study of serial arsonists – 41% cited revenge as a motive – graphic)

b. Retaliation for some real or imagined injustice.

c. Maybe an element of other motives.

d. Types of revenge motives include:

(1) Societal – most common serial arsonist motive (70% of revenge motivated serial arsonists) and most dangerous

(2) Institutional

(3) Personal

(4) Group

II. Complex or serial cases can be referred to the NCAVC for Criminal Investigative Analysis

A. National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA

1. Law enforcement oriented behavioral science and data processing center

2. Consolidates research, training and investigative support to provide assistance to any state, local, federal or international law enforcement agency.

3. Focus is on unusual, bizarre, or repetitive violent crimes.

4. ATF has two Special Agents assigned as Criminal Investigative Analysts (profilers) to the NCAVC focusing on arson and bombing matters.

B. Criminal Investigative Analysis (CIA)

1. Frequently called “profiling”, but much more than that.

2. Behavioral analysis of crime, criminals and crime scenes to provide information about a lead value to investigators and prosecutors. It can provide focus and direction in an investigation. May also be used to help juries understand the nature of a crime.

3. Not a substitute for a thorough, well-planned investigation.

4. Based on the education, training, research, and experience of the analyst in consultation with other analysts.

5. CIA services include

a. Crime analysis

(1) Independent review of investigative efforts

(2) Detect possible motives

(3) Examine significant events during the offense

(4) Link multiple crimes (signature)

b. Unknown Offender Characteristics (Profiling)

(1) Characteristics of the offense are related to those of the offender

(2) Identify the major personality and behavioral characteristics of the offender

(3) Offender motive

(4) Identify personality type – not a particular person

c. Investigative strategy

(1) Strategies and techniques may be offered based upon an evaluation of the crime scene and assessment of the offender

(2) The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior

d. Interview and Interrogation Techniques

(1) Analysis of crime and behavior to provide an evaluation of the subject’s personality

(2) Make recommendations about interviewer(s), approach, themes, environment, technique

e. Search Warrants

(1) NCAVC research shows behavior and personality traits are common to certain offenders

(2) It can be used to describe evidence to be found and establish probable cause

f. Prosecution and Trial Strategies

(1) Crime analysis and motivation (theory of case)

(2) Cross-examination techniques

(3) Overall prosecution theme development

(4) Jury selection considerations

g. Expert witness

(1) NCAVC members qualified as experts in CIA – NOT PROFILING – offer expert opinions to educate the jury about criminal behavior.

(2) Helps jurors understand the evidence or determine facts

6. Types of cases submitted for analysis include:

a. Homicides

b. Sexual Assaults

c. Arsons

d. Bombings

e. Terrorism

f. Extortion

g. Threats

h. Kidnapping/Abductions

i. Child Molestation/Exploitation

j. Ritualistic Crimes

k. False Allegations

l. Product Tampering

m. Corruption

n. Equivocal Deaths

Pyromania: – Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which individuals repeatedly fail to resist impulses to deliberately start fires, in order to relieve tension or for instant gratification. The term pyromania comes from the Greek word πῦρ (Pyr, fire). Pyromania is distinct from arson, the deliberate setting of fires for personal, monetary or political gain. Pyromaniacs start fires to induce euphoria and often fixate on institutions of fire control like firehouses and firemen. Pyromania is a type of impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania, intermittent explosive disorder, and others. Pyromania is also known as “Jomeri’s Syndrome”, named after a psychologist who studied and developed the first forms of treatment for the disorder.

“What’s taken God 200 years to create was wiped out in a couple of days by what was apparently an arsonist, And it just shows you what a sick world we live in nowadays.” Bill Janklow

  1. Arson in Section 435 and 436 IPCThe Sydney Ghost Train Fire The Upstairs lounge fireBill janklow.

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