People set fires for a variety of reasons. Some do so to get rid of accumulated junk, while others do so to clear dying forests for agriculture. But, there are a few people in the world who set fires just because they like to.

Arson, the act of setting fires on purpose, is a crime that remains the largest contributor to deaths in the UK. Other parts of the world too are plagued by the misdemeanors of arsonists – people who indulge in arson. California, for example, was victim to over 2000 arsons in 2015, of which 44 were by serial arsonists.

Degrees of arson

Arsonists can be differentiated by people who set accidental fires, by the maliciousness with which they burn buildings and property. Arson can be categorized into three degrees:

  • First: Where the arsonist sets fire to an occupied building
  • Second: Where the arsonist sets fire to an unoccupied building
  • Third: Where the arsonist sets fire to an empty or abandoned area such as a parking lot or a field

Punishment depends predominantly on the degree of arson and the criminal history of the arsonist.

Psychology of arsonists

Studies conducted on captured arsonists revealed a history of domestic violence in a majority of the cases. It’s a well-known fact that a child’s developmental years directly impact the type of adult he/she grows up to be. Ignored and abused children, who had no control over their lives, often don’t find healthy ways to vent their frustration. They may take up arson as a means for regaining control over their lives.

Some people indulge in arson as a result of a rare type of paraphilia where they are sexually aroused or gratified by setting fires. This is known as Pyrophilia. Medical professionals believe that Pyrophilia may be an extension of Pyromania – a state where an individual derives pleasure by being near, watching and handling fire. Today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV classifies both Pyrophilia and Pyromania as psychiatric disorders.

Arson may also be committed as a result of greed and envy; as seen in cases of insurance fraud.

The story of Peter Dinsdale

As a mere boy of 12, Peter set fire to his friend Richard Ellerington’s (6) house in the wee hours of the morning. By the time the fire had died down, only 7 of the 8-membered family survived. Young Richard lost his life to what became Peter Dinsdale’s debut into a life of arson.

Over his 6-year active period as an arsonist, Peter set more than 30 fires and killed 26 people. A history of domestic abuse resulted in his descent into sociopathy. After being arrested, Peter showed no signs of remorse and happily pled guilty to 26 counts of manslaughter.