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Skyline Parkway Motel Burned

The Skyline Parkway Motel in Afton, Virginia after an arson fire on July 9, 2004.

Arson, called fireraising in Scots law, is the crime of setting a fire for an unlawful or improper purpose. The criminal damage of property in English law has been consolidated into a single offense in the Criminal Damage Act 1971 although the use of the word has been retained.

Skyline Parkway Motel Burned

The Skyline Parkway Motel at Rockfish Gap after an arson fire on July 9, 2004.

The motives of arsonists vary. The possibility of financial gain often drives arsonists to file fraudulent insurance claim after setting fire.

Vandalism is frequently behind arsons perpetrated by juvenile fire setters. Vandalism through fire can occur in vacant or abandoned buildings. Cities often regulate or encourage owners to secure vacant buildings. Fire departments aggressively attack fires in abandoned buildings out of concern for the transient or homeless people that may be dwelling inside.

Domestic violence sometimes results in arson. Victims’ property is often damaged or destroyed, compromising physical safety and sometimes causing personal injury. In some cases arson can also be a method of committing murder. Revenge motivation can generate dangerous fires, as a fire setter’s acts of rage contributes to the conflagration. Disgruntled firefighters have occasionally been known to start arson out of revenge, especially those extremely angry at losing their jobs or who have numerous grievances with a fire station and hope that the fire chief or other superiors may perish in the arson fire they started.

Man-made forest fires are frequent in the summers of southern Europe, most notably Turkey and Greece but also Portugal, southern Spain and most of Italy. Several causes are proposed, including the change of commonal property to government-owned forests, sales of cheap burnt wood, envies against neighbors, intention to sell the land for urban development, disgruntled former firefighters, and distraction of the police by drug smugglers.

Some acts of arson are politically motivated. For example, an environmental group known as the Earth Liberation Front committed arson to spread its message of environmental protection. It is often incorrectly believed that Roman emperor Nero ordered the Great Fire of Rome, which erupted on the night of July 18, 64 CE. The fire started from the shops selling flammable goods at the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus and reportedly lasted for nine days.


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