What Drives a Person to Set Fires?

Dr. Lou Harris a criminal justice professor at Faulkner University says, "If a person sets a fire, they leave part of themselves there."

Harris teaches psychological profiling. He says you can determine certain personality traits of the fire starter from what they leave behind at the crime scene. "Profiling never comes up with a name, but it comes up with traits to let the investigator say, 'Oh, I know who that is,' adds Harris.

So, who is the typical arsonist? Research shows nine out of ten are males, three out of four are white, and half are under 18. Harris says, "A lot of it is just irrational for a juvenile. If we are talking about an adult, 30's or 40's, there is methodology and there is very organized pattern."

Why would someone intentionally set fire to a building? "It's the old motive and opportunity," says Harris.

Studies show there are a number of motives such as revenge, vandalism, crime concealment, profit and excitement. "It's an impulse satisfaction they have," says Harris.

All nine crime scenes are baptist churches. That leads to speculation that the person must have something against the church. Harris says, "There has got to be a lot more to it than that. That seems too simplistic."

The Fire Marshall has asked sheriff's in West Alabama to step up patrols. Harris says that may not only prevent more fires but also help investigators solve these nine arson cases. He adds, "By beefing up patrols, it may cause the arsonist to make a mistake or go someplace where they are detected."

Harris says investigators will also try to determine if this is a serial arsonist. That's someone who sets three or more fires then takes a cooling off period. Harris says whether this person will strike again depends on motive. But he did say, with the number of officers working this case, he feels they'll solve it quickly.