Originally created 05/02/00

Week draws attention to motives for arson



Juveniles commit more than half the arsons in the United States, causing an estimated $2 billion in property damage and hundreds of deaths each year.

Concern for juvenile arson has prompted a nationwide awareness effort called National Arson Awareness Week, in which parents are asked to pay attention to the problem of children setting fires.

According to the office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John W. Oxendine, juveniles often set fires intentionally and also out of curiosity.

Arson is a felony offense that carries a penalty of 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Mr. Oxendine's Arson Unit investigated 306 arsons in Georgia last year that involved nine fatalities and 12 injuries and caused more than $13.8 million in damages. Investigators made 125 arrests pertaining to fires set by arson.

"There are several reasons for arson," said David Turno, inspector for Aiken Public Safety. "The factors include the concealment of a crime, profit, revenge on a person, pyromania, riot and vanity."

Arson for profit involves a business or organization setting a fire to collect the insurance money on the damaged property, Inspector Turno said.

Some fires are started by people trying to gain attention, Inspector Turno said.

"Someone starts a fire and then helps put the fire out," he said. "That makes the person a hero, and that's the reason behind starting the fire."

In 1999, Aiken County investigated five suspicious arsons. This year, Aiken Public Safety has had no reported arsons, but there are eight unexplained fires under investigation.

In South Carolina, arson caused more than $12 million in property damage in 1998, according to the latest statistics from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

The Augusta-Richmond County Fire Marshall's office was unable to provide information for the Augusta area.

Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3512 or ajrossjr@hotmail.com.