One of the
main challenges to arson prosecutionsis to distinguish between arson
fires and accidental fires. Arson fires are fires set with intentto destroy or damage property.
The legal definition of arson fires involves fires where the person setting the
fire had the intent to commit harm by setting the fire, as well as setting the
fire or being interrupted while in the process of setting the fire. Accidental
fires are all other kinds of fires.
Accidental fires are usually
not prosecuted as arson. If however, an accidental fire occurs because of
demonstrably gross negligenceor a casual disregard for the
consequences of setting the fire, these fires can cease to be judged as
accidental and may instead be seen as arson fires.
In children ages eight to
twelve, fires are still sometimes accidental, but a greater proportion are
arson fires. The arson fires set by these individuals are often a manifestation
of deeper psychological problems, as seen by the fact that there are relatively
few accidental fires set by juveniles thirteen to eighteen years old. Fires in
this group are often intentional and criminal, meaning they can be properly
called arson fires as can those set by adults.
Another common species of
accidental fires involving cigarettes involved throwing a lit cigarette from a
moving car. This is a gray area, though, because negligence or disregard may
A type of accidental fires that
is not in dispute, however, involves campfires. Campfires at which every
reasonable effort is made to control the fire and contain its blaze, but still
spreads due to the spread of properly managed embers, can only be included in
the category of accidental fires no matter how large the blaze which results.