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.
Jeff Prestemon | EurekAlert!
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