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Is an Accidental Fire Considered Arson?

arson, fire, flames

Can You Go to Jail for Accidentally Starting a Fire?

Weather is the most important factor that influences how fires start and spread, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The weather components include temperature, wind, humidity, and precipitation. Although wildfires could happen at any time and place in WI, the Department finds that most wildfires occur in the spring. This is because after the snow melts, grasses, pine needles, and leaves are very dry and thus at risk of going ablaze. Warm temperatures, low humidity, and wind don’t help, either.

To get a better idea of the fire risks in Wisconsin, take a look at data provided by the US Fire Administration:

  • 774 fire departments in Wisconsin reported fire losses through the National Fire Incident Reporting System in 2018
  • Of all fires that happened in 2018 in Wisconsin, 3.4 deaths and 13.8 injuries per 1,000 fires occurred, with the national average being 2.5 deaths and 9.8 injuries per 1,000 fires
  • 6.9 deaths and 35.2 injuries occurred in home fires in Wisconsin, with the national average being 6.1 deaths and 25.3 injuries per 1,000 fires

What Causes Accidental Fires?

Although fires are dangerous and deadly, they are not always ignited on purpose. Accidents are one of the leading causes of fires altogether, which is why we list some common causes of accidental fires below. Being mindful of these factors may better help you avoid getting criminal charges or worse, stuck in a deadly incident.

Common Causes of Accidental Wildfires

  • Campfires left unattended
  • Burning of debris
  • Equipment use and malfunctions
  • Negligently discarded cigarettes

Common Causes of House Fires

  • Cooking or cooking appliances such as cookers, ovens, grill pans, microwaves, and toasters, are among the top causes of accidental house fires. To best avoid this, see the tips below:
    • Never leave cooking unattended
    • Turn off hobs and ovens when finished cooking
    • Keep flammable items such as tea towels and oven gloves away from the cooker
    • Keep oven and grill pans free from a build-up of oils and grease, which can easily catch fire
    • Never throw water onto an oil-based fire
  • Electricity supplies or other electrical equipment and appliances such as plugs, lighting and cables, washing machines, dishwashers, and tumble dryers are sources of house fires. Try to avoid this by:
    • Never overloading sockets
    • Never leaving electrical appliances such as dishwashers or washing machines running overnight or when you leave the house
  • Avoid starting a house fire from smoking or smoking-related materials such as cigarettes, matches, and lighters by:
    • Never smoking in bed or when feeling drowsy or tired
    • Always stubbing cigarettes out fully in an ashtray

How Long do Arsonists Go to Jail For?

Arson carries steep costs, not just for cities and private property owners but also for convicted arsonists. A class C felony, arson is punishable by up to $100,000 fines and/or up to 40 years in prison upon conviction. Take a look at specific acts of arson below:

  • By means of fire, intentionally damaging any building of another without the other's consent; or
  • By means of fire, intentionally damaging any building with the intent to defraud an insurer of that building; or
  • By means of explosives, intentionally damaging any property of another without the other's consent.

Further, intentionally damaging any property valued at $100 or more, other than a building and by means of fire is guilty of a Class I felony, punishable by up to $10,000 fines and/or 3.5 years in prison.

One of the common reasons people get arrested for arson is that the police tend to assume the worst, believing a person started a fire to collect insurance money. Arson with intent to defraud is committed when a person, by means of fire, damages any property other than a building with the intent to defraud an insurer of that property. A conviction for this offense is a Class H felony punishable by up to $10,000 fines and/or a maximum of 6 years in prison.

Don’t Get Heated, Get Legal Help!

Unfortunately, police officers could charge you with arson because they are convinced the fire was started for the purpose of collecting insurance, rather than simply being an accident. As such, you can count on our criminal defense lawyer to fight tirelessly to maintain your innocence and help you avoid the serious penalties that come with a conviction for arson.

Arrange your consultation online or at (414) 882-8382 to learn more.