Arson: America's Most Costly Crime

December 10, 1982

Report Outline
Extent of the Problem
Insurance Industry Role
Anti-Arson Campaigns
Special Focus

Extent of the Problem

Mounting Arson Losses Across the Nation

In a scene from the 1981 movie “Body Heat,” a professional arsonist, played by actor Mickey Rourke, explains what is involved in clandestinely setting fire to a building. “You gotta get in. You gotta get out. You gotta pick the right spot, the right time,” the character says, “and you gotta try to not get famous while you're in the act….I'll tell you something…this arson is serious crime.”

Arson is, indeed, a serious crime in this country. “The United States has the highest rate of arson in the world,” Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, said in a speech on the Senate floor Sept. 22. “Arson is this nation's fastest-growing crime, quadrupling during the last decade and increasing tenfold in dollar losses….Arson represents 25 percent of all fires and also 25 percent of our fire insurance premiums.”

The U.S. Fire Administration, the government agency that researches, analyzes and disseminates fire data, estimates that there were more than 175,000 arson fires in this country last year, resulting in 877 deaths and 3,595 injuries. These blazes also accounted for nearly $2 billion in smoke and fire damage. Indirect losses were estimated at about $15 billion. “Arson is America's costliest crime,” said Sen. Glenn. “In 1981, the average loss per incident for arson was $9,399.” That amount was nearly double the combined average loss for other property crimes—auto theft ($3,173), burglary ($934), robbery ($665) and larceny ($340).

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 27, 2022  Crime in America
Feb. 10, 2017  Forensic Science Controversies
Feb. 05, 2016  Restorative Justice
Jan. 30, 2015  Central American Gangs
Aug. 29, 2014  Transnational Crime
Aug. 09, 2013  Sexual Assault in the Military
Oct. 26, 2012  Mexico's Future
Apr. 20, 2012  Criminal Records and Employment
Apr. 19, 2011  Honor Killings
Sep. 2010  Crime in Latin America
Jul. 16, 2010  Gangs in the U.S.
Jul. 17, 2009  Examining Forensics
Apr. 17, 2009  Wrongful Convictions Updated
Feb. 08, 2008  Fighting Crime
Oct. 11, 2002  Corporate Crime
Apr. 04, 1997  Declining Crime Rates
Dec. 10, 1982  Arson: America's Most Costly Crime
May 07, 1982  Helping Victims of Crime
Mar. 13, 1981  Violent Crime's Return to Prominence
Jul. 15, 1977  Crime Reduction: Reality or Illusion
Jan. 19, 1972  Crime of Rape
Jan. 22, 1969  Street Crime in America
Jan. 17, 1968  Burglary Prevention
Sep. 22, 1965  Compensation for Victims of Crime
Feb. 17, 1965  Criminal Justice and Crime Control
Oct. 18, 1961  Control of City Crime
Jun. 20, 1929  Crime and the Courts
Crime and Law Enforcement
Insurance Industry