Arson among nation's most difficult crimes to solve

Only 5 to 7 percent of those charged with arson are ever convicted

By Wayne Ford
The Athens Banner-Herald

ATHENS, Ga. — When Barrow County firefighters arrived at the burning home of a vacationing family earlier this month, they put out the fire, but too late to save the mobile home from extensive damage.

In the fire's aftermath, investigators determined someone intentionally set the blaze.

Already in Georgia this year, the State Fire Marshal has investigated 110 fires, 37 of which were deemed as arsons. Of these fires, suspects were arrested in nine case, according to Jamie Kimbrough, executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service.

Authorities still don't know a motive for the Statham fire, which was discovered about 8:30 a.m. on April 17. But a lack of a known motive is no surprise, officials said.

"Arson has an incredibly low conviction rate," said Jim Beck, president of the Georgia Underwriting Association, which sponsors Georgia Arson Control, a group that offers a reward for people who provide information that convicts an arsonist.

"Only 5 to 7 percent of people ever charged with arson are convicted," Beck said.

In recent years, the biggest spike in arson occurred among juvenile offenders, Beck said.

"Typically a juvenile will not set a fire for profit, so it's malicious vandalism," he said.

There are many motives for arson, including fires to conceal crimes, revenge and insurance fraud, according to Beck.

Arson Control provides a tipline (1-800-282-5804) in which a person can provide information and potentially receive a reward of up $10,000. The reward is not given until the case is resolved and the board evaluates the merits of the information and its impact, according to Kimbrough.

In the first three months of this year, the Arson Hotline has received 18 calls regarding arson cases.

During this time span, the state's top 10 counties with the most arson cases, listed according to the value of what was destroyed, are Pickens, Rabun, Bulloch, Tift, Habersham, Richmond, Candler, Hancock, Thomas and Jackson.

The following is the latest data provided by the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Arsonists set fires that destroyed $663 million worth of property in 2013 in the U.S.
  • There were 10,500 vehicle arsons in 2013, compared with 12,500 in 2012.
  • In 2013, there were 22,500 intentionally set structure fires.
  • Intentionally set structure fires cost $577 million in property damage in 2013.
  • The number of civilians killed in arson fires in 2013 totaled 150.


(c)2015 Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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