Anchorage Fire Departmen investigators say arson crimes have been on the rise in the past few years. Acting Fire Marshal James Gray said he's seen a nearly three-fold increase in arson fires, jumping from 13 arson cases in 2010 to 25 arson cases in 2012.
Gray said there are six reasons people turn to arson. Fire officials call them motivators. They are: vandalism, concealing a crime, revenge, excitement, extremism and profit. At a fire scene, AFD considers them all.
"It is an art and science to determining the origin and cause of a fire," said Gray. "It is a unique combination of skills that a person brings to bear to accurately determine that and not only determine it but also know and be able to assist in proving it in a court of law. It can be a very challenging thing."
AFD says revenge is one motivator it has often seen, like in the case of Gina Virgilio. Virgilio has been charged for lighting her boyfriend on fire in June 2012 as revenge and she is awaiting trial. Channel 2 reached out to Virgilio to ask if revenge was a motivator in the crime she's accused of, as fire officials indicated, but she declined an interview.
AFD said there have been a number of cases where people have used fire to conceal a crime.
“They believe that by burning this building or burning something, that they can burn up all the evidence," said Gray. "The good news for us is we have some pretty good forensic techniques and when the fire is over, we can discover a lot about the motivation for the crime."
Overall, the highest number of arson cases were motivated by vandalism, according to Gray. He said that includes playground and trash-can fires.
Extremism is the only motivation that investigators haven't seen in Anchorage. AFD describes extremism as a fire set to further a social, political or religious case, similar to terrorism or hate crimes. AFD said while some church fires in the area have been suspicious, they have not been determined to be arson.
AFD said they were actively working on at least 24 arson cases. More than 30 other cases have been suspended due to lack of evidence.
Contact Mallory Peebles