Arson is a very hard crime to solve, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. As authorities struggle to find the source of 14 deliberate fires in Coatesville, Pa., since New Year’s Day, they do so with the awareness that only 17 percent of arson fires are ever figured out. The chances of making an arrest and getting a court conviction are even smaller – perhaps as low as 2 percent nationally, according to Doug Williams, arson-training specialist at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. “Short of someone witnessing the act and being able to identify [the arsonist] without a doubt, getting a conviction will be tough,” Williams said.
Williams said investigators will have to look at many possible motives for the Coatesville fires. “Is it a bunch of kids thinking it’s fun and cute? Or is it a serial arsonist? Is it drug-related? Is it gang-related? “You’ve got to ask all the right questions,” he said, “and you’ve got to peel the onion to see what it might be.” In 2007, says the National Fire Protection Association, 32,500 arson fires caused 295 deaths and $733 million in property damage across the country. Poorer neighborhoods experience 14 times the number of arsons as higher-income neighborhoods, says the U.S. Fire Administration. About half of all arsonists are juveniles.