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Arson is defined as the willful act of setting something on fire, usually a home or another type of structure. People commit arson for a variety of reasons, and the crime is severely punished all over the world because it puts lives and property at risk. In some parts of the world, if someone dies in a fire that was deliberately set, it is considered to be murder, rather than manslaughter or negligent homicide, because arson is deemed to be such a reprehensible act. In all instances, a conviction carries a prison term.
Motives for arson vary. In many instances, a property owner commits this crime in an attempt to collect the value of the property, which is usually insured against fire. Arson is also committed to cover up evidence of another crime, and some individuals even undertake it for entertainment or thrills. Some vandals also set property on fire, sometimes not with the express purpose of burning a building down, but with the idea of more general property damage in mind.
Some people with mental illness engage in fire setting as part of their mental condition. Usually, they start out with small objects in contained spaces, but if the tendency is left unchecked, they may graduate to arson. When fire setting is part of a mental illness, it is usually treated through psychotherapy and behavioral therapy, both attempts to get at the roots of an anti-social behavior. In rare instances, an arsonist may be confined in a mental treatment facility until he or she is better.
Although the motives for arson are sometimes complex, the law is usually crystal clear: anyone who deliberately sets fire to something will be punished for it. In some regions, a fire that is caused by extreme negligence or disregard will also be classified as arson. The penalty for committing this crime often depends on things like how much property was damaged, the total value of the damages, and whether or not people were trapped in the fire. The intent also plays a role, such as whether the fire was set to defraud an insurance agency, cover up a crime, was part of a revenge crime, or was designed to entertain or amuse the arsonist, for example.
Most parts of the world have arson investigators, who inspect the sites of suspicious fires to determine the cause of the fire and whether or not it was deliberate. This job can sometimes be quite difficult, especially when evidence is obscured by the efforts of those trying to put out or clean up the fire. Arson investigators use a variety of techniques to examine the sites of fires including chemical analysis of evidence, the use of sniffer dogs, and simple powers of observation.