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The Path To Ruin > The Many Causes of Arson

SECTION GUIDE

The Path to Ruin | Demographic Changes | Private Disinvestment: The Real Estate Follies |
Public Disinvestment: Planned Shrinkage
| "The Fire War" | The Many Causes of Arson | Hitting Bottom
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bushwick

The Many Causes of Arson
by Adam J. Schwartz

As fires increased throughout the mid-70's, their cause shifted as well. What began as accidental fires resulting from overcrowding,
led to an epidemic of arson.

Here are the major causes of arson in Bushwick during this time:

• The FHA Mortgage Scandal:
The largest single cause of arson, It's estimated that as many as 500 buildings were abandoned due to the FHA mortgage scandal.

• Landlords:
Fires were set by landlords who were tired of trying to evict tenants, or to make money off of insurance that they could not make from.

• Tenant Arson:
Some poorer tenants took advantage of Welfare regulations which gave preference to those that had been burned out of their homes.

• Vandals:
Fires were set by vandals to get at copper pipes. Firefighters made their job much easier when they would knocked out the walls.

• Squatters:
In the winter, abandoned houses were often taken over by heroin users, who were not careful with the fires used to cook their drugs.

• Youth:
During the summer, it was idle youth whose pastime was burning up cars and houses.

• Vengeance fires:
Quantitatively a small percentage of fires, but the most tragic. As fires became a part of the culture of Bushwick, residents used them to serve their short term emotional needs. Many fires were started by jealous lovers, rivals, or just out of plain spite.

But without adequate funding, the fires could not be stopped:

"It's not arson if you can't investigate. And we just couldn't at that time. By 1977, we were down to 35 fire marshals in the city,
with just two cars between us."

Jon Knox
Retired Fire Marshal, FDNY
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