Although adult arsonists can cause a devastating loss in property and
lives, very little is known about them.
However, the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related
Conditions, a nationally representative sample of some 43,000 Americans aged
18 or older, gave some scientists an unprecedented opportunity to learn more
about adult arsonists because one of the many questions asked of those
surveyed was the following: "In your entire life, did you ever start a
fire on purpose to destroy someone else's property or just to see it
Out of the approximately 43,000 survey respondents, some 400 individuals
answered yes to this question, the scientists reported online July 10 in
Comprehensive Psychiatry. Thus, extrapolating from this finding, it
looks as if arsonists constitute 1 percent of the U.S. population.
Moreover, by comparing survey responses from the individuals who reported
having intentionally started fires with those from the individuals who had
not, the scientists were able to glean some valuable insights into adult
"I expect the study findings will be of interest not only to the
psychiatric community, but also to insurance-company personnel, municipal
firefighters, and other entities affected by the serious costs associated with
arson," Vaughn noted. For instance, their findings might help the police
better profile arsonists. Also, "Given the substantial personal and
social costs related to arson, prevention and treatment interventions
targeting fire setters potentially could save lives and property,"
Vaughn and his colleagues wrote.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
An abstract of "Prevalence and Correlates of Fire Setting in
the United States: Results From the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol
and Related Conditions" can be accessed at<www.sciencedirect.com>
under "Browse by Title," "C," and then"
Comprehensive Psychiatry Articles in Press." ▪