‘Kindling theory’ in arson: how dangerous are firesetters?


  • Adam Brett, Director
    Wellington St Clinic, Unit 15 Wellington Fair, 200 Wellington Street, East Perth WA 6004. Email: adam.brett@health.wa.gov.au

Adam Brett, Director


Objective:  This article aims to review the literature on firesetters particularly looking at recidivism rates. The early literature described firesetters as dangerous individuals. This article reviews the more recent empirical data to examine if it supports the early literature.

Method:  A literature review was performed examining papers which described firesetters with any reference to recidivism. These were divided into three broad categories based on where studies have been performed, namely in forensic psychiatric settings, the criminal justice system and general and psychiatric hospitals.

Results:  The literature has been poorly focused and provides little help when assessing an individual firesetter. Risk factors associated with general criminology have been cited.

Conclusions:  The empirical literature cannot support the hypothesis that firesetters are inherently dangerous. More research should target different groups of firesetters and examining individual risk within that group with an aim of researching treatment for the different groups.