Wisconsin law takes arson very seriously. It is a malicious and highly dangerous crime. In the year 2006, there were approximately 31,000 intentionally set fires across the US, resulting in 305 civilian deaths. To qualify as felony arson, a fire must be set intentionally, but Wisconsin law includes ways to prosecute people who unintentionally set fires through reckless behavior. Here is a quick overview of our state’s fire safety laws, in order of increasing severity.

Negligent handling of burning materials: If you cause a fire by mishandling or failing to supervise a smaller fire, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. This can be punished by up to nine months in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. For repeat offenders, the sentence might be up to two years.

Arson of property other than buildings: Intentionally using fire to damage any property, other than buildings, worth more than $100 is a class E felony. This can be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

Unsafe burning of buildings: Sometimes people decide to get rid of old sheds or dangerously dilapidated buildings by simply burning them down. This is legal, provided you do it with the knowledge and cooperation of the fire department. If you burn an old building in a reckless or dangerous manner, you are guilty of a Class D felony. This can be punished by up to 25 years in prison.

Arson of buildings: When a person deliberately sets fire to a building without the owner’s consent, sets fire to their own property to commit insurance fraud, or does either of these with the use of explosives, they have committed a Class B felony. The penalty can be up to 60 years in prison.

Injury caused by arson: Anyone who is injured or suffers property damage due to arson, including municipal employees, can sue the arsonist for treble damages. This means the arsonist will have to pay the injured party three times the cost of the damages suffered.

First degree murder: If an act of arson leads to a person’s death, the arsonist can be charged with first degree felony murder, even if the death was accidental. In Wisconsin, being convicted of a Class A felony carries a mandatory life sentence.

Arson is clearly not a charge to be taken lightly. Because fires are so difficult to control once they are set, arson is an extremely dangerous crime. For more information about Wisconsin’s laws about arson, contact Appleton arson defense attorneys Kohler, Hart & Priebe.

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