Office of State Fire Marshal Recognizes National Arson Awareness Week

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Insurance (NCDOI), which houses the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM), is partnering with the U.S Fire Administration on this year’s National Arson Awareness Week, May 6-12, with a focus on reducing arson at vacant and abandoned buildings.

“Arson is a serious crime that the North Carolina Department of Insurance and the Office of the State Fire Marshal is committed to not only investigating but also preventing,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. “We encourage communities and local officials to take proactive steps to increase public awareness of the problem and measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of being a victim of arson.”

In January, OSFM hired two new fire investigators and NCDOI assigned two new fraud investigators to help municipalities in their effort to prevent intentional fires and handle insurance fraud involving arson.

In February, OSFM collaborated with the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys and the State Bureau of Investigation to offer an arson prosecution course at Wake Technical Community College.

The two-day class called “Up In Smoke” (Video attached), featured a live burn demonstration as well as classroom instruction to educate fire investigators, police officers, and prosecutors on the best methods to collect and preserve evidence in order to prosecute arson cases to the fullest extent of the law.

The attached broadcast quality video includes b-roll of live burn demonstration at Wake Technical Community College and interviews with Fire Investigator Bill Marshall and NC Conference of District Attorneys Arson/Homicide Special Prosecutor Mike Muskus.

In an effort to help community organizations, local law enforcement, and fire safety officials to increase arson awareness, Commissioner Causey would like to release the following information about arson fires:

According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s Vacant Residential Building Fires (2013 – 2015) Topical Fire Report published in January 2018:

  • Each year, from 2013 to 2015, an estimated 23,800 vacant residential building fires were reported to fire departments within the United States and caused an estimated 75 deaths, 200 injuries and $785 million in property loss.
  • At 34 percent, intentional actions were the leading cause of vacant residential building fires.
  • Each year, from 2013 to 2015, an estimated 6,400 vacant nonresidential building fires were reported to fire departments within the United States and caused an estimated 5 deaths, 50 injuries, and $205 million in property loss.
  • From 2013 to 2015, the leading causes of vacant nonresidential building fires were intentional actions (28 percent), open flame (15 percent), and other unintentional, careless actions (15 percent).

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ United States Bomb Data Center’s Bomb and Arson Tracking System (BATS):

  • There have been an average of 550 incendiary/arson fires per year at properties reported as abandoned, vacant-secured and vacant-unsecured, uninhabited, idle not routinely used and being demolished reported.
  • This is for the 10-year period from 2007 to 2016 and reported by federal, state and local jurisdictions.
  • BATS shows the most incendiary/arson fires at abandoned, vacant-secured and vacant-unsecured properties in 2014 with 662 reported and the fewest in 2007 with 117 fires.

According to the February 2018 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report titled Fires in Vacant Buildings authored by Marty Ahrens:

  • In 2011-2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 30,200 structure fires per year in vacant properties. These fires resulted in an average of 60 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $710 million in direct property damage per year.
  • Fires in vacant buildings are more likely to have been intentionally set and to spread beyond the building than are fires in other structures. They also cause a disproportionate share of firefighter injuries.
  • Half (50%) percent of vacant building fires were intentionally set compared to 10% of all structure fires. Vacant structures accounted for 30% of intentionally set structure fires.
  • In unsecured vacant properties, three-fifths (61%) of the fires were intentional.
  • One-third (35%) of the fires in secured properties were intentional.

During the same period, an estimated average of 3,310 firefighters per year were injured at vacant building fires. Thirteen percent of firefighter injuries at structure fires occurred in or at vacant buildings.