It seems there is not a lot of conversation surrounding the crime of arson. It may occasionally be mentioned on the news, but it doesn’t appear that there is much discussion of how the crime of arson can impact its victims or what options they may have in moving forward. Arson, as with any crime, is based on degrees of severity. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on 1st and 2nd degree arson.
Per the Colorado state law, 1st degree arson is listed as:
A person who knowingly sets fire to, burns, causes to be burned, or by the use of any explosive damages or destroys, or causes to be damaged or destroyed, any building or occupied structure of another without their consent commits first degree arson.
The following is the statute on 2nd degree arson:
A person who knowingly sets fire to, burns, causes to be burned, or by the use of any explosive damages or destroys, or causes to be damaged or destroyed, any property of another without his consent, other than a building or occupied structure, commits second-degree arson.
Unfortunately, arson is not considered a violent crime under the Colorado Victim’s Rights Act. However, this does not mean that arson is not a serious crime. According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), of the residential building fires responded to in 2018 that resulted in fatalities, intentional fires accounted for at least 9.6% of the estimated total (2000 fires).
Arkansas Valley Resource Center (AVRC) Staff reached out to La Junta Fire Department Chief Brad Davidson for insight into how arson can affect survivors’ lives. Fire Chief Davidson has been in fire service for 24.5 years, where he started as a volunteer. Fire Chief Davidson has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Service Administration and Arson Investigation, and is currently a Board Member on the Colorado Arson Investigators Association. Fire Chief Davidson assisted in answering the following questions, with inserts from AVRC to elaborate further.
How often, annually, would you estimate you are responding to fires that are determined to be a result of arson?
Fire Chief Davidson: About 3-5%, annually.
How often do you find cases of 1st/2nd degree arson intersecting with other violent crimes, such as domestic violence?
FCD: Very few in our area. There are more retaliatory arson cases in urban areas, less so in rural communities, due in part to “everybody knows everybody”.
What challenges have you seen survivors of arson face most commonly?
A. Loss of property,
B. Reestablishing their lives,
One thing to consider in the process of reestablishing their lives is that arson survivors have experienced trauma. Arson can result in injuries to a victim, their family, or their pets, or potentially the death of family members or pets, all of which can be highly traumatizing. Recovery from that trauma is potentially going to be a big part of the survivor reestablishing their life.
C. A lack of insurance (renter’s/homeowner’s/car), and
D. Going through the court process to seek restitution and/or closure.
It is important to note that part of AVRC’s services include assisting victims during the criminal justice process, including going to hearings, clarifying questions regarding the criminal justice process, or advocating to criminal justice system professionals on the client’s behalf.
What suggestions would you have for survivors of arson, in relation to investigations?
A. Cooperation with the investigation process.
It is understandable that a survivor would want to get back in to their home as soon as possible to see what they can salvage, but until a warrant is obtained and the investigation of the property is completed, it is better to remain off the property, as evidence for the survivor’s case may be damaged or destroyed, making it hard to prove the case in court.
B. Understand that investigation can take some time.
Once arson is suspected, a warrant needs to be obtained from a Judge, and depending on the availability of the Judge, this may take up to 12 hours or more. Once evidence is obtained from the scene, it is sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to be tested, and there is sometimes a backlog of 6-7 months on evidence from around the state. This can be very frustrating, but it is better to be thorough in the investigation, which makes it possible to get a more desirable result from the court case.
C. Communication between the victim and the criminal justice is a 2-way street.
A role that AVRC Staff can play in this part of the process is to assist the survivor in communicating with relevant agencies to keep up to date on what is happening with their case. The survivor can opt to have AVRC Staff ask general questions about case and investigation processes, or sign a release of information to ask questions that are specific to their individual case.
In your experience, what would be a good first step forward for a survivor after they have experienced arson?
FCD: Getting back on their feet; access resources available to you right away. Also, if you have insurance, file your claim as soon as possible, as insurers like to have their own investigator come on scene.
Arson has the capability to completely turn a survivor’s world upside-down. In the blink of an eye, you can be homeless, facing the loss of property, pets, or even family, and struggling to meet even your most basic needs. Support and resources are critical for starting the process of moving forward.
Arkansas Valley Resource Center is readily available to provide assistance–24 hours a day, seven days a week–to victims of arson, including financial assistance, criminal justice support, and civil protection order advocacy. AVRC Staff can also further support survivors in recovery from their victimization through seeking grief counseling or therapy referrals. Support is just one call away!
415 Colorado Avenue, La Junta, CO 81050
(719) 384-7764 24/7
TTY: (719) 384-1938
After Hours Colorado Relay dial 711 or 1-800-659-2656
Special Thanks to La Junta Fire Chief Brad Davidson!
Fire stats provided by the US Fire Administration