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When Does Setting a Fire Constitute Arson in Washington?

Posted by Steve Karimi | Jul 18, 2017 | 0 Comments

In the summer months, a fire in a backyard or at a campsite is a common recreational activity. However, there are many restrictions on who may set a fire, what materials may be burned, and where a fire may occur. In addition to municipal restrictions on having fires on residential property, state and national parks have their own laws governing where a fire may be lit and what materials may be burned.

However, Washington law also regulates fire setting that reaches the level of arson or 'reckless burning'. The key difference between regulations on where fire may occur and these more serious crimes is the fact that damage resulted from the fire. The difference between these two crimes lies in the intent of the individual starting the fire; awareness of the fact that a fire will damage a structure elevates the crime to arson, a much more serious charge, carrying substantial fines and prison time.

A person is guilty of arson in the second degree if he or she knowingly and maliciously causes a fire or explosion which damages a building or any structure addition to a building, or any wharf, dock, machine, engine, automobile, or other motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, bridge, or trestle, or hay, grain, crop, or timber, whether cut or standing or any rangeland, or pastureland, or any fence, or any lumber, shingle, or other timber products, or any property. Arson in the second degree is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $20,000 or both.

The charge is elevated to arson in the first degree if he or she knowingly and maliciously causes a fire or explosion:

  • Which is clearly dangerous to any human life, including firefighters; or
  • Which damages a dwelling; or
  • In any building in which there is a person who is not a participant in the crime; or
  • On a property valued at $10,000 or more with intent to collect insurance proceeds.

Arson in the first degree is a Class A felony, punishable by up to life in prison or a fine of up to $50,000 or both.

Reckless burning is similar to arson, except that the perpetrator does not have malicious intent. A person is guilty of reckless burning in the first degree if he or she recklessly damages a building or other structure or any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, or watercraft or any hay, grain, crop, or timber whether cut or standing, by knowingly causing a fire or explosion. It is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

Knowingly causing a fire or explosion, whether on his or her own property or that of another, and thereby recklessly placing a building or other structure, or any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, or watercraft, or any hay, grain, crop or timber, whether cut or standing, in danger of destruction or damage constitutes reckless burning in the second degree, a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or fines of up to $5,000 or both.

Anyone facing charges associated with causing a fire needs a criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the different classes of arson and reckless burning. For help with your case, call the Seattle Law Offices of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.