Two persons of interest were arrested for suspected link to 30 arson incidents in the Orlando area.  Since June 2014 there has been:

  • Eleven residential arson incidents in Sanford
  • Twelve in the Orlando area
  • Three in the Daytona area.

CFN 13 Interviews Total Life Counselor Dana West on Characteristics of Arsonists
Steven Angle, 40, a person of interest in nearly 30 arsons throughout Central Florida was arrested Saturday August 16, 2014 after a chase with Daytona Beach police and a suicide attempt, officials said. He is currently in the Volusia County Jail on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting an officer without violence and a parole violation out of Georgia. Angle’s half brother, Curtis Smith, 34, was charged with attempted murder and first-degree arson in connection with a mobile-home fire in Sanford on Aug. 8.

These arson incidents have caused fear and anxiety for many citizens living in the neighborhoods where these fires occurred. The questions many are asking is why would someone do this? What motivates a serial arsonist?

The serial arsonist defined as someone involved in three or more separate fire setting episodes with a characteristic emotional cooling off period between fires. This period may last days, weeks, or even years. Serial arson is the most serious type of arson due to apparent random selection of victims and unpredictable gaps between incidents.

Motive | Furthermore a serial arsonist does not have a separate or distinct motive for fire setting. It is a pattern of fire setting frequently encountered in revenge, excitement or extremist motivated arson.

Community effects | Serial arsonists often create a climate of fear in entire communities community leaders tend to compound the problem by pressuring law enforcement agencies to identify and quickly apprehend the fire setter often the arsonist evades apprehension for months while investigators become increasing frustrated by the lack of experience in handling these baffling cases.

8 Characteristics of Serial Arsonists

  1. The typical offender in this category is male 84% of the time.
  2. The age is generally younger. 50% of arson cases are under 18, and 31% under 15,
  3. The arsonist tends to be a loner, but a secondary party may have knowledge of his activities.
  4. Arsonists tend to be minimally educated and an underachievers. He or she generally has poor interpersonal relationships and is socially inadequate.
  5. Often he or she is unemployed and if the arsonist has an employment history it is erratic and involves little or no skill.
  6. Have a history of substance abuse.
  7. History of police contact/arrests for minor nuisance offenses.
  8. Lives near the scene of the crime. The offender walks to the scene of the fire and generally lives within one mile of the crime scene. He is very likely familiar with the crime scene and could justify his presence in the area. It is important to analyze the cluster centers of fire activity. The tighter the cluster the closer to the area of significance to the offender.

Why do teens or adult males start fires or cause arson? It is about power and control. Due to feeling emotional chaos internally it gives a false sense of power and control by causing fires or the arson on the outside. Watching chaos outside of self can bring a sense of calmness to one struggling with pain, anger, and sadness on the inside.

5 Typical Characteristics of Teen Fire Starters

  1. Low impulse control
  2. Lack of supervision
  3. Poor coping skills, lack problem solving skills and are unable to express or identify with feelings.
  4. Has experienced a recent crisis or trauma.
  5. They show a lack of appropriate remorse after setting a fire and will often deny or lie about the cause of the fire.

If 50% are usually teen males what does a parent need to do if they see their teen acting out with fire starting? Bring them in for individual and family counseling as soon as possible. Early intervention to learn coping skills to deal with emotional problems and issues can help your adolescent mature into a successful and happy young adult. Do not let denial, shame, or embarrassment stop you from receiving the help that your family and child needs.

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Author: Dana West, MSW, LCSW is an Orlando Teen Counselor & Addictions, Sexual Abuse Trauma Therapist with Total Life Counseling Center with offices in Southwest Orlando, East Orlando, Winter Park, Lake Mary & Clermont Florida. Total Life Counseling Center specializes in helping teens and parents and our experts can be reached at (407) 248-0030.