Photos by Austin Campbell
Photo by Prashant Patel speaking about where the fire was lit.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Asheville Fire Department said Buncombe County has seen an increase in fire crimes.
“It is important to understand what arson is. Arson is a broad term used to describe a crime related to a fire. According to state law: Arson is the deliberate burning of one’s own home. Investigators from the Asheville Fire Department and Asheville Police Department have noted a slight increase in this type of fire since the pandemic, but we have also seen an increase in accidental fires during this time, ”said Kelley Klope, AfD Public Information Officer.
Klope said the type of fires that the public commonly refer to as arson are incendiary fires. A fire that is intentionally set where or when there shouldn’t be a fire.
“Since 2016, the Asheville Fire Department has investigated an average of 15 fires per year. In 2020 we investigated 25 fires that were classified as arsonists. In the same period, however, we investigated an average of 36 accidental fires per year. ”In nature. In 2020 we examined 47 accidental fires, ”said Klope.
The AfD has seen more than one incident since February, but Klope said they don’t justify any concern about serial arson as the incidents are independent.
“The best way to prevent arson is to know your surroundings and to follow crime prevention techniques. With surveillance cameras, fences, alarm systems. Secure vacant houses and buildings. Keep the property free of overgrowth, garbage picking, or abandoned cars. Get to know your neighborhood and report suspicious activity, ”said the public relations officer.
Fires mainly occur in low-income areas and older homes. Klope said people aged 65 and over People with disabilities and children under five are at greater risk of dying in house fires.
“Much of the fires we investigated during the pandemic were related to the passing population and many were boiling or warming fires that spread,” said Klope.
The AfD has experienced some criminal cases that have a variety of motivational factors such as fraud, revenge, concealment of another crime and boredom or curiosity, said Klope.
“I haven’t been here, but I rewound my outdoor surveillance cameras. My colleague told me that when she arrived in the morning someone was on fire at the gas station, right next to the propane exchange. You know how stupid you can be, ”said Prashant Patel, a manager at the Shell gas station on Swannanoa River Road. “On the cameras I saw him standing there waiting for the greyhound bus, but he didn’t come that morning. He lit a fire because he was trying to stay warm. “
The Greyhound bus wasn’t leaving until the next day when Patel said he was back at work to check the surveillance camera footage.
“I have motion sensors for the gas station so I know when people or cars are in the parking lot. I got a notification that someone was in the parking lot and turned on my camera. At that moment I looked at the screen and saw that the same man had come back with a lighter in his hand. I called an officer I knew from the Asheville Police Department and told them the man had returned to my property, ”said Patel.
Patel said when the officer arrived at the gas station, the man crossed the street to a self-service car wash.
“The officer told me they couldn’t see him, but I didn’t want to let him escape. I knew he was still here somewhere. I got outside and got in my car. I just drove around until I found him. I saw him in the car wash doing the same thing. He had a fire on and was burning things. I called the officer back and told him exactly where the man was and waited for the officer to show up. They arrested the man that night, ”said the gas station manager.
Patel said this behavior made him angry. His employee had to clean up all the ashes and debris from the man’s fire after he left that morning.
“You haven’t even cleaned up the mess. You left it for my employee who is an elderly person. Why should you leave your mess to someone else, ”said the store manager.
Patel said he found this behavior unacceptable and said that having a fire around it makes his business look bad.
“Some arson attacks are simply an accident that went wrong, others are exploited. For example, for financial reasons or to cover up another crime. Juvenile arsonists are likely to have the slightest understanding of criminal law relating to arson, ”said Pamela Laughon, chair and associate professor of UNCA’s psychology department.
Laughon said that, to the best of her knowledge, there is no psychological profile of individuals who commit arson, which would be expected given the small number of individuals who commit this crime.
“There are no large-scale studies of arsonists, with the exception of serial arsonists, who repeat themselves in arson. In 2015, about 38,000 arson charges were reported in the United States, a small number of people. Arson is not a common crime, ”she said. “If someone has studied it systematically, it would be this Violent Crime Program Unit of the FBI’s old Behavioral Sciences Unit.
According to Laughon, 72 percent of those charged with arson are Caucasian, 26 percent are black, 82 percent are men, and 36 percent are under the age of 18, although teenagers make up only 10 percent of the population.
Laughon said the most likely reasons for arson were for financial gain, revenge, or some form of intimidation.
“Both commercial and private property can be the subject of arson. Arson has not been associated with any specific traits or psychological traits, ”Laughon said.