Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to property, and is among the most serious property crimes in North Carolina. When it comes to punishment, most arson and burning offenses are felonies. The severity of the crime tends to coincide with the type of property burned, whether there were people in it, and if emergency respondents suffered any serious injury caused by the arson. 

A person can be convicted of arson without successfully burning the actual dwelling or property. Whether it is for attempted arson, or burning areas within the “curtilage”, or land that the building is on such as a lawn, the person who allegedly caused the fire can be charged with arson.

If you have been accused of committing arson, you will need an experienced attorney. The state has a great deal of facts to prove to convict you of this crime, so you need a lawyer who can challenge the evidence in a precise and detailed manner.

a car set on fire due to a car bomb, which is a form of arson

Types of Arson Offenses in North Carolina

North Carolina has arson offenses and “setting fire” offenses, where arson applies to human property, while setting fire applies to some natural property. As mentioned above, the act of setting fire and burning property constitute arson, regardless of the extent of destruction successfully caused. Every arson offense is a felony in North Carolina, with some being more serious than others as follows:

First Degree Arson

The most serious form of arson first-degree arson involves burning a dwelling house or other buildings within the same land of a dwelling while someone is present inside. To be specific, the crime must satisfy the following elements:

  1. Willfully and maliciously
  2. burning another person’s dwelling house, or other buildings within the curtilage the house.
  3. while someone is present inside the dwelling.

As this must be done willfully and maliciously, the government must show that the defendant both:

  1. intended to burn the dwelling, or the act they committed would probably result in burning.
  2. acted voluntarily and without justification.

This means that the government does not need to prove any intent or knowledge as to injury of the person inside, they just need to prove intent to burn a particular house.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class D felony.

Burning of Property Alone

North Carolina has many statutes regarding burning various buildings. In all cases, the condition is that the burning is committed “wantonly and willfully”, and there is no requirement for a person to have been inside. This means that the act could have been done with willful disregard for safety or care of others rather than intended malice to destroy property.

A person is guilty of a class F felony for burning of the following kinds of property:

  • Public buildings: justice building, legislative building, any any other buildings owned or occupied by state or local government.
  • Schoolhouses: any building owned or leased by an educational institution
  • Bridges and Safety Stations: bridges, fire engine houses, fire stations, rescue squad buildings, and buildings for associated businesses.
  • Factories, Uninhabited Houses, Stores: any factory, uninhabited house, barn, granary, or structure that is intended for use in trade or manufacture.

If the building is a church or other religious building, the crime is punished as a Class E felony.

A person is guilty of a class H felony for burning any of the following:

  • buildings under construction
  • boats, barges, ferries and other water transportation vessels.
  • One’s own dwelling or house
  • Any other structure not listed.
  • Personal property

Causing Serious Injury to a Firefighter or EMT

If a person commits a felony arson offense and a firefighter or EMT responds and suffers serious bodily injury on the property, the defendant can have a class E felony.

Serious bodily injury carries a different meaning from serious injury, and includes:

  • permanent disfigurement
  • coma
  • permanent severe pain
  • impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ
  • prolonged hospitalization
  • substantial risk of death

Setting Fire Offenses

While arson offenses pertain to property, setting fire offenses pertain to nature. Much of our forests and fields in North Carolina are protected under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Most of these crimes are misdemeanors but it can become a felony.

Setting Fire to Woods and Fields

A person is guilty of this crime if they willfully and negligently set on fire, or cause to be set on fire, any woods, land or fields in a county protected under the DENR.

The punishment for this crime is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Setting Fire with Intent

There are two forms of intent when it comes to setting fire. In the first, the intent must be to just burn grassland, brushland or woodland belonging to another person or belonging to themselves while failing to notify people nearby, or watching the fire damage land belonging to others. If convicted, the defendant will be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor upon first offense, and class 1 misdemeanor on subsequent offenses. The person must also have failed

If a person sets fire to grass, bushlands, or woodlands with willful and malicious intent to damage property belonging to somebody else, they will be guilty of a class I felony.

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