ARSON: Defined as: “the willful or malicious burning of property (as a building) especially with criminal or fraudulent intent” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Intent is the most important criteria in this determination. A fire could even be set intentionally, but not be considered arson(also known as an incendiary fire). According to the NFPA Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigations(via Interfire.org), an incendiary fire is basically one set with the knowledge it shouldn’t have been set there.
There are three other possible determinations of the cause of a fire: accidental, natural, and undetermined. An accidental fire can be set intentionally. The difference is when a fire that was set somewhere meant for it leaves that place and spreads. So, a campfire that gets out of control wouldn’t be considered arson, even though it was started intentionally. Natural fires are ones without human involvement. Any fire for which a cause cannot be proven is considered undetermined, although that fire might still be under investigation.
There was actually an arson case in my hometown back in 2007. Two young firefighters(19) were charged(and plead guilty) with 9 counts of arson for fires they set to 9 houses between August and December. There were more charges, including burglary and criminal trespass. If they’d been given the maximum penalty for all the charges, they could have been sentenced to nearly 600 years each. This didn’t happen. They got 6-12 years.
I actually kind of referenced this in Flames of Redemption. In a conversation between James, the city fire investigator, Adrian, the cop who’s investigating because of a death during the fire, and the stare fire marshal. Kayla, who is referenced here, is James’ niece, and a firefighter who he’s training to investigate.
“I know the case,” James snarled. “That was a different department, a different town. A stupid, small town boy who thought he could play hero after setting the fire himself. Kayla had nothing to do with it.”
“You never know,” he muttered.
Adrian tried to restrain the fury, but his lips thinned as his pulse sped up. His body flushed with the heat of anger as he pushed himself from the chair. James tried to stop him again, but this time Adrian ignored him. “She wouldn’t start these fires any more than the rest of us would have. You’ve seen how hard she works trying to find the answers. She wouldn’t need to do that if she’d set it in the first place.”
“There wouldn’t be a fire to study if it wasn’t set. You’re only jumping to her defense because you want to get in her pants. Or have you already?”
“I thought you were so sure no one had set it,” James said, his voice still quiet.
“Who better than a firefighter to make it look accidental?”
This isn’t actually an unusual occurrence, although not exactly frequent either. It does happen, though, and often the responding firefighters, may be high on the suspect list.