Sunday, October 13, 2013

Creative Terminology

Recently, someone used the term “unintentional arson” in a comment posted to an online news article about a fire. Since the basic definition of arson as defined by multiple sources is the intentional setting of a fire, this oxymoronic term doesn't work.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines arson as “the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property.” It does not specify what type of property.

The website offers this definition of arson:

“By statute, a person is guilty of arson, if, under circumstances not amounting to aggravated arson, by means of fire or explosives, he unlawfully and intentionally damages:
a. any property with intention of defrauding an insurer; or
b. the property of another. [State v. Durant, 674 P.2d 638, 639 (Utah 1983)].

Under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, arson is defined as:

“(A)ny willful or malicious burning or attempting to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc.”

So what is the common thread here? Intent. “Deliberately setting fire.” “Intentionally damages.” “Willful or malicious.” Arson is committed by people who intend to damage or destroy the property of another. The term can also apply to a fire that was started by someone’s “outrageously reckless conduct.”

Here in Colorado, authorities have determined that the state’s two most destructive wildfires (the June 2012 Waldo Canyon fire and the June 2013 Black Forest fire) were “human-caused,” meaning natural causes such as lightning were ruled out. However, it’s important to note that “human-caused” is not the same as arson. Investigators must determine whether the human(s) who started the fires did so on purpose, or if they were just being ignorant and/or doing something stupid. Legally, the cases hinge on those crucial determinations.

Arson is an extensive topic, and I could go on for a couple more pages, but I won’t (at least, not today!). However, I will cover other aspects of arson in future posts. Stay tuned!

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