Investigating Sioux Falls arson fires

KELOLAND.com Original
KELO Sioux Falls Fire Rescue truck SFFR

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The city of Sioux Falls had 285 fires in 2019 and 31 of those were arson fires, according to Sioux Falls Fire Rescue and the Sioux Falls Police Department.

SFFR tracks fires and the police department tracks arson fires.

Arson is more than the suspect who starts another’s property on fire.

Sioux Falls Fire Marshal Dean Lanier said the public may assume that a fire started by a person is an arson fire. “We have incendiary fires started by human beings but that doesn’t mean it’s arson,” Lanier said.

While the scenario of a person who starts another’s property on fire is part of state law which defines arson, the definition is broader. First degree arson is when person starts a fire or causes an explosion to destroy another’s occupied structure as first degree arson. Second degree arson is a person who starts a fire or explosion to destroy another’s unoccupied structure, his own or another’s property to collect insurance. State code Chapter 22-23 or 22-33-9.1 through 9.5 and 22-33-10, also includes this as arson — reckless burning or exploding which is a felony.

The same state code Chapter 22-23 also includes failure to report or control a dangerous fire as a misdemeanor and burning within a structure where person is lawfully confined as a felony.

There were 10 arson in the first degree fires, which is a fire or explosion to damage another’s occupied property. Two were arson in the second degree which is a fire or explosion to destroy one’s own personal property or another’s property for insurance. Five were arson in the third degree which is burning an unoccupied structure. Twelve were reckless burning or exploding.

The three arson fires as of Jan. 23 in Sioux Falls were one each of arson in the first degree and arson in the third degree and two reckless burning or exploding.

Investigating an arson fire, or any fire, can pose challenges, said Lanier and Mike Top, who is also with the SFFR.

“It can be a challenge to determine the cause,” Top said.

The national standard. called NFP 921 require investigators to “consider all possible ignition sources,” Top said.

The severity of the damage and the damage in the possible area of origin can be so bad that determining a cause can be difficult, Top said.

Investigators do not set out to prove a cause of a fire but rather to try and proof possible causes wrong until one remains, Top and Lanier said.

Possible causes are ruled out during an investigation.

Lanier and Top said the public may wonder why a fire cause is undetermined after an investigation. If an investigation does not lead to one remaining cause of the fire, the cause may then be ruled undetermined. Sometimes, there isn’t enough evidence to clearly point to only one possible cause, they said.

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