National Arson Awareness Week

Intentionally set fires don't make headlines very often, but last year in Florida, Arson claimed $35 million worth of property and killed or injured 99 people.

Wednesday, we got a rare tour of Florida’s Fire and Arson Lab near Quincy. It's one of just three labs like it in the country.

Fire gutted a cabinet shop in Woodville, $125,000 worth of damage. Investigators on the scene rule it an arson.

Reggie Hurchins is the chief chemist at the State Fire and Arson Lab near Quincy. He and his colleagues did the lab work on the Woodville case, and he's testified in dozens of high profile cases like the two brothers in Pensacola who were accused of killing their father and setting his house on fire to cover it up.

"Everyone has war stories But it's really just a day's work," Reggie says.

Any evidence that comes into the lab starts out in an airtight can. The evidence is then taken to a special hood fitted with a charcoal strips and vaporized in an oven. Any accelerants that collected are put in tiny tubes and taken for analysis.

A sample could have come from a t-shirt or a piece of carpet. It's placed into an instrument and it can tell exactly what the accelerant is, gasoline, diesel, you name it.

“Gasoline has a pattern, diesel has a pattern, mineral spirits have a pattern, and that's the pattern we look for."

Identifying a fire-starting substance can take anywhere from two hours to three days. Then comes the hard part, figuring out who set the fire, and why. That is a tall order.

Investigators say they make arrests in fewer than one in five arson cases.

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Arson Facts

  • Arson is the second leading cause of death by fire in the United States, exceeded only by losses due to smoking.

  • Arson is the leading cause of property damage due to fires.

  • One of every four fires that occur in the U.S. each year, about a half million, are arson.

  • Each year, more than 90 percent of all civilian deaths in incendiary and suspicious structure fires occur in residential properties.

  • Direct property damage from arson totals more than $3 billion in a typical year. One out of every four dollars lost to fire is the result of arson.

  • Only 16 percent of arson offenses lead to arrest, and only two percent of those arrested are convicted.

  • Preliminary results of a new study by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggest that between one-fifth to one-fourth of reported arson cases in major American cities are drug-related.

  • Arson is the leading cause of fire in houses of worship, accounting for 25 percent of church and related property fires.

  • 53 percent of all arsons are set by youths under age 18.

Source: www.usfa.fema.gov contributed to this report


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