Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Time to burn: Getting a step ahead of wildland arsonists


Just released analyses by USDA Forest Service researchers reveal underlying patterns in wildland arson. Research forester Jeff Prestemon and economist David Butry, both from the FS Southern Research Station economics unit at Research Triangle Park, NC, have developed a model that can help law enforcement agencies better predict where and when fires might be set in wildland areas and adopt strategies to reduce the risk of arson.

Over 1.5 million fires are set by arsonists each year in the United States, resulting in over $3 billion in damages. Arson is a leading cause of wildfire in several heavily populated states, including California and Florida. Since wildland arsonists often set fires near homes and roads, arson wildfires cause a disproportionate amount of the damage attributed to wildfire in general. Several recent large wildfires were intentionally set, including the Hayman fire near Denver in 2002, which caused damages exceeding $100 million.

Criminals often commit multiple crimes in a short time frame, a documented phenomenon that researchers call temporal clustering. Temporal clustering of arson events can also be a result of copycat behavior. Property and violent crimes often have a spatial clustering component, also, with crime concentrated in neighborhoods. In a pair of studies, Prestemon and Butry set out to test whether spatio-temporal clustering also appeared in wildland arson. Their research, which described the firesetting process in the context of the economics of crime, also examined whether socioeconomic factors are related to wildland arson in ways identified by criminologists.

"Even though the economic damages created by wildland arsonists are often staggering, research into the factors that contribute to it has been limited to a few published studies," says Prestemon. "Models of wildland arson have mostly related firesetting to weather, seasonal trends, and law enforcement, ignoring the role of the socioeconomic variables used to predict other types of crime."

"At the same time, no one has been able to identify the spatio-temporal dimensions of wildland arson that we found," declared colleague David Butry. "Our findings have uncovered a new avenue of fire research, deepened our understanding of arsonists’ behaviors, and revealed another way in which humans and society interact with our environment."

In one study, the researchers evaluated wildland arson as both an annual and a daily process. Their annual model revealed the influence of law enforcement, fuels, poverty, and labor conditions on the rates of ignitions observed in all of the counties in Florida during the period 1995 to 2001. The researchers uncovered the fine temporal pattern of arson by analyzing arson in nine high-arson counties scattered across the state over the same time frame, but sliced into days instead of years. This model identified temporal clustering that lasted up to 11 days--implying higher risk of repeat arson ignitions for 11 days following the initial fire. This kind of pattern had never before been found in any research into human-ignited wildfires.

In the second study, Prestemon and Butry measured the spatial as well as temporal clustering of arson wildfires using daily information for the six Census tracts in Florida with the greatest arson activity. Their statistical results showed that an arson event in one Census tract was related to arson in the previous two days in neighboring tracts and the previous ten days in the same tract.

"So not only did we confirm our finding from the previous study, that arson clusters in time, but we also showed that it clusters in space over time," adds Butry. "In other words, arson events in one tract may be used to predict future ignitions in the same or adjacent tracts for several days." When the two studies are taken together, a principal finding is that wildland arson has spatio-temporal clustering similar to patterns found for other types of crime.

"Combining this principal finding with our data on law enforcement led to our second finding, that there are strategies that law enforcement can use to prevent wildland arson," says Prestemon. "They can closely monitor areas where fires have been set before. They can also increase arson enforcement on days of the year when events are more common, and during droughts."

A third finding was that locations with difficult economic conditions--low wages and high poverty rates--have higher rates of wildland arson, which is consistent with an economic model of crime. Fourth, forest management activities are also related to wildland arson, with fuel reductions from prescribed burning and other wildfires correlated with lower arson rates. "This finding is also consistent with an economic model of wildland arson crime, where lower fuels increase the cost of successfully starting fires," says Prestemon.

The next step is to test the model in other locations to see if the statistical results hold true outside of Florida and to conduct new research into arsonists’ behavior. "While we have examined and found similar firesetting patterns in California, we think we need to direct some of our effort into understanding who arsonists are and what, precisely, makes them behave as they do," says Butry. "If we could add feedback from convicted wildland arsonists, we could really enhance our understanding of how they choose where and when to set fires. Incorporating this information into the model would raise its predictive value to law enforcement."

Jeff Prestemon | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>