Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Enticing arsonists with broken windows and social disorder



Douglas Thomas, David Butry, Jeffrey P. Prestemon


Arson rates vary widely across the U.S., and much of this variation can be traced to fuel and weather factors related to ignition success and socioeconomic factors shown to influence crime rates. In criminology, it is well understood that indicators of urban decay, such as abandoned buildings littered with broken windows, provide would-be criminals with signals identifying neighborhoods with lower crime detection and apprehension rates than in other, better maintained neighborhoods. Whether it is the resident population s sense of apathy, lack of civic pride, or fear of confrontation that causes would-be criminals to perceive an easy mark, it nevertheless emboldens them to strike. Previous research into the spatio-temporal patterns of wildland arson hints that the wildland equivalents of broken windows are partly responsible for wildland arson outbreaks within the wildland-urban interface. We model the incidence of wildland and structure arson ignitions in Michigan from 2001 to 2005 as a function of constructed Broken Windows indices. Our results suggest that crime prevention and urban revitalization programs may be just as valuable as fire suppression, fuels management, and law enforcement in limiting incidence and the damage from arson.
Fire Technology


wildfire economics, wildland-urban interface


Thomas, D. , Butry, D. and Prestemon, J. (2011), Enticing arsonists with broken windows and social disorder, Fire Technology, [online], (Accessed April 23, 2024)
Created January 5, 2011, Updated October 12, 2021