When people around the country look at the devastation in the wake of California wildfires, it is hard to imagine anyone would do this intentionally. Yet, it does happen. Some people have an insatiable desire to set things aflame; it is an addiction. Unfortunately, dry climates and droughts make a poor mix with pyromania.
In 2015, NBC reported that individuals intentionally started 1,000 of the wildfires in 2014. From as far back as 2007, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimated that as many as one in every five wildfires in the state began intentionally. Because of this, law enforcement agents do not treat wildfires as natural disasters; instead, they investigate.
Damage of wildfires
Fire is one of the most dangerous forces and when it attacks, it does not leave much standing. It takes lives, ruins property, damages wildlife, disrupts families and negatively impacts the economy. CNN estimates that the full damage of the half a million wildfires arsonists set in America every year amount to $3 billion.
Investigators have honed exceptional skills in finding out how a fire started and where. What is often more difficult to prove is who did it. There are several reasons arson is hard to prove. For starters, arsonists rarely have witnesses. Secondly, even when law enforcement discover who started the fire, it can become difficult to prove intent. After all, people set fires accidentally, too.
Potential for the death penalty
If the court decides an individual is guilty, then sentencing depends on how much destruction the fire caused and if it caused any deaths. It is possible to get the death sentence. This happened in California following the San Bernardino fire of 2003, which destroyed several homes and burned through 92,000 acres. The defendant faced convictions on two counts of arson and five counts of first-degree murder.
Another potential outcome is to pay for the damage. When one 15-year-old started a fire with fireworks in Oregon, the judge ordered him to pay $36 million with the option to get on a payment schedule. The blaze he set burned through 48,000 acres.