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How is arson different from an accidental fire?

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2024 | Criminal Defense

When a property burns down or catches fire, the investigators may find certain elements that they think are suspicious. This could lead them to believe that it is a case of arson, rather than something like an electrical fire. They may believe that the fire was started by an individual, so it could potentially be a crime.

But there are some cases in which a person could start a fire without being guilty of arson. They may still have committed a crime, such as trespassing if they weren’t allowed to be on the property. But the fire itself may have been an accident. How does this differ from arson?

Arson needs to be intentional or willful

The key thing to remember about arson charges is that the individual who is accused must have willfully started the fire. This is something that they did intentionally. They were well aware of their actions and they wanted to start a fire at that location – perhaps to cause damage to the property, perhaps to harm someone or maybe just to get a fraudulent insurance payout.

On the other hand, someone who accidentally starts a fire could still face some legal charges. Maybe they were trespassing, as noted above. Maybe they were just neglectful and so they will be held liable in civil court for damages and injuries. But since they didn’t do it intentionally and never meant to cause harm, that’s very different than arson.

Naturally, those who are facing these types of charges may argue that the fire was accidental while the prosecution claims it was intentional. This is a key point in the case, and it’s important for all involved to know their legal defense options.