According to "Criminal Profiling of Serial Arsonist" there are six different motivations for arsonists: Vandalism, Excitement, Profit, Revenge, Crime Concealment and Extremist (Serial Arson, 2006). Arsonists involved in vandalism would most likely be of the disorganized, expressive typology. Vandalism is committed for entertainment and may be a spontaneous action which often involves juveniles. The intent is to damage property but not to hurt people. Setting fires for excitement would involve a more organized expressive type which often involves an escalation of behavior. Juvenile fire setting is a behavior that many serious offenders share and could be a stepping stone behavior to more serious crimes. Within the excitement motivation, some offenders can be obsessed with firefighters and trucks and or often will stick around to "watch the show". The Hero Complex also applies to this group. Offenders committing arson motivated by profit would fall into the organized instrumental type.
The offender is motivated by financial gain or loss and is primarily a property crime. An offender can file an insurance claim by burning their own property, interfere with competition, or gain employment such as a private contact firefighter starting a wildland fire. Revenge arsonists could be organized or disorganized and instrumental. Whether the behavior is organized or disorganized would depend on if the act was committed in the heat of the moment or was planned out to minimize the chance of being caught. Destroying the property is a means to attacking the property owner and is personal. The loss of one's home can have a devastating effect on a person whether intentional or accidental and violates a person's sanctity. Crime concealment motivation may be organized or disorganized and would be considered instrumental. Fire has the ability to destroy evidence which can conceal a crime or at the very least slow/complicate an investigation.
The act can be planned ahead of time or completed in the heat of the moment. Extremist motivations can be personal, political or religious and the offender can be of organized types and use fire as a means to damage property to inflict fear in people. One such example is the Boston Marathon where the offender actually used improvised explosives (Snodgrass, 2013). Collecting forensic evidence from fire scenes is often difficult.
As in Week 5's required readings, canine detection of accelerants can be used and may be superior to some mechanical methods. Often the issue with analyzing forensic evidence is the same issue that investigators and prosecutors face. The need to prove criminal intent in a fire versus an unintentional or accidental cause is required. Montana Fire Investigator Dan Smith of Advanced Fire Investigations explained such a case where criminal intent was not able to be proven. The fire he investigated involved two home owners who have claimed to have cleaned engine parts in the living room of their home using an accelerant. The accelerant caught fire which resulted in a total loss of the property. The home owners had removed some of their valuables from the home just prior to the incident and stood to gain financially from the loss. Smith was unable to prove criminal intent in the incident and the insurance company paid the claim (Smith,2017).
Snodgrass, P. (2013). Fire, Explosion & Arson Investigation. Firehouse, 38(11), 82-87.
Durtschi, C., & Rufus, R. (2017). Arson or Accident: A Forensic Accounting Case Requiring Critical Thinking and Expert Communication. Issues in Accounting Education, 32(1), 113-122.
(2006) Criminal Profiling of Serial Arson Offenses. In: Criminal Profiling. Humana Press, pp.153,154
Smith, D., personal communication, Fire, Arson, Explosion Investigator: Advanced Fire Investigations (2017)
Determining Arson Motivations, InterfireOnline.