Fires in Arizona Can Be Deadly, and Starting One Is a Crime

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Fires in Arizona Can Be Deadly, and Starting One Is a Crime

Unfortunately, wildfires in Arizona are so common that we have a “fire season.” Our state’s dry climate makes it easy for fires to spread, leaving devastation in their wake. While some fires are naturally occurring, most of them are caused by reckless burning or arson. 

No matter how or why it happened, if you start a fire that gets out of control, you could be facing arrest and criminal charges as well as fines. Reckless burning and arson are both serious crimes in Arizona—here’s more about the penalties for starting a fire.

Arson vs. Reckless Burning 

Arizona starts has two definitions for starting a dangerous fire: arson and reckless burning. Arson is starting a fire with the purpose of causing destruction or bodily harm. Reckless burning is starting a fire or setting off an explosion that accidentally damages a structure, property, or wildlands.

Examples of arson in Arizona include:

  • Starting a fire to collect insurance on a building
  • Starting a fire to injure another person
  • Starting a fire to ‘see what will happen’
  • Stump removal with fire
  • Lighting illegal fireworks 

Examples of reckless burning include:

  • A spark from a campfire that ignites nearby plantlife
  • A bonfire that becomes too large and spreads
  • The misuse of legal sparklers or fireworks that catches a house on fire
  • Tossing lit cigarettes or other combustibles out of a window or onto the ground
  • Allowing unsupervised children to play with fire

Penalties for Starting Fires in Arizona

Depending on the level of destruction, starting a fire can be either a misdemeanor or felony crime. Penalties vary according to whether the fire was started accidentally or intentionally, and whether or not any injuries occurred. Punishments range from a class 1 misdemeanor and fines, up to a class 2 felony with prison time. 

Class 1 Misdemeanor

  • When damages are under $100, or the damage was due to reckless burning
  • Maximum of 6 months in jail
  • Possible fines and fees

Class 6 Felony  

  • Any intentional or accidental fire damage to wildlands during a fire ban 
  • Prison terms of 6 months to 2 years for first offenders
  • Prison terms of 9 months to 5 years for the second or third offense
  • Fines and fees

Class 5 Felony 

  • When damages are over $100 
  • A prison term of 6 months to over 2 years for a first offense 
  • Prison terms of 1 year to 7.5 years for second or third offenses
  • Fines and fees

Class 4 Felony

  • When damage is over $1,000 
  • When the fire was started in a prison
  • A prison term of 1 year to over 3 years for a first offense 
  • Prison terms of 2 years to 15 years for second or third offenses
  • Fines and fees

Class 3 Felony 

  • If the fire burns wildlife and there are people or property in the immediate area
  • A prison term of 2 years to over 8 years for a first offense 
  • Prison terms of 3 years to 25 years for second or third offenses
  • Fines and fees

Class 2 Felony 

  • If the fire damages an occupied structure
  • A prison term of 3 years to over 12 years for a first offense 
  • Prison terms of 4 years to 35 years for second or third offenses
  • Fines and fees

You Could Have to Pay for Emergency Services 

Along with court fees and reparations, the court could also order you to pay for the emergency services that were needed to quell the fire (as this 16-year old found out in 2019). These fines can include public services like firefighters and ambulatory services, or private services like helicopters that the county had to hire to fight the fire. 

Stricter Sentencing for Loss of Life

If a person is severely injured or loses their life in a fire you set, you could be facing more than arson or reckless burning charges. Most likely you will be facing manslaughter or even murder charges, depending on the intention behind starting the fire. 

Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Arizona

A felony conviction for arson or reckless burning could drastically change your life. Not only is a criminal trial a long and costly process, you could end up spending time behind bars. A good lawyer will do their best to keep you out of prison and keep your record clean. 

Todd Coolidge has glowing testimonials from his previous clients and over 25 years of experience in criminal defense. The right lawyer can make all the difference when it comes to spending your time with your family or spending time in prison. 

If you’re facing criminal charges for starting a fire, contact us today to request a consultation on your case. 




Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (7/19/23). Photo by Brian Fegter on Unsplash.