An Act relative to fires and explosions

H. 3361
Lead Sponsor: Jay D. Livingstone
 


Impetus
8A. In the summer of 2014, two juveniles obtained fireworks and without adult supervision ignited them in their backyard. One of the fireworks exploded, leaving both juveniles with serious injuries including missing fingers, broken bones, burns and hearing loss.

8B. In the Spring of 2014, there was a two-alarm residential fire in Tewksbury which caused personal injury and a great deal of property damage, and posed a serious safety risk to the people in the neighborhood. That fire was caused when several individuals tried to extract oil from marijuana, using pressurized butane, so that they could smoke the oil. The butane, which was highly volatile, caused an explosion when it was placed over an open flame. The explosion caused serious burns to the people standing closest to the stove and a fire which spread throughout the home and the two adjoining apartments.

8C. Each year, small fires are set on school property by students seeking to interrupt the school day or cause a distraction. These fires are typically set in trash barrels or to paper in sinks or toilets.

8D.  Trespassers who started a fire and allowed it to spread were responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in damage to property at a campground.

Need

  • 8A. There is currently no mechanism to charge a person whose wanton or reckless use of fireworks, or Other incendiary or explosive material, causes harm to a bystander or another party or to the property of another.
  • 8B. There is no applicable statute to address conduct wherein a person negligently or recklessly causes a fire during the manufacture of controlled substances. This is because our current arson and burning statutes require proof of the specific intent to set a fire or cause an explosion, rather than the intent to make controlled substances. Currently, a misdemeanor charge for wanton destruction of property in violation of G.L. c. 266, § 127 may be brought in these cases. This charge, however, does not sufficiently address the extent of the property damage that could occur and does not address at all the more important harm of personal injury.
  • 8C. Intentional fires that are set on school property create a risk of damage to property and harm to students and school personnel. Our current statutes do not adequately address this crime.
  • G.L., c. 266, § 2, prohibits the willful and malicious burning of the "contents" of “any building or structure" other than a dwelling, which could arguably be applied to incidents where fires are set in schools. G.L. c. 266, § 5, prohibits the willful and malicious burning of "any personal property of whatsoever class or character exceeding a value of twenty-five dollars." Section 2 establishes a felony charge for which there is no jurisdiction in District Court, while section 5 establishes a felony charge for which there is concurrent District Court jurisdiction.
  • 8D. The current statute only authorizes a misdemeanor charge where an individual damages the land or property of another through negligent management of an intentionally set fire, regardless of the extent and dollar value of the damage.

Legislative Fix

  • 8A. Establishes a penalty when the wanton or reckless use of fireworks or other incendiary or explosive material, causes personal injury or property damage.
  • 8B. Establishes a penalty when a person, in the course of manufacturing a controlled substance or a product derived therefrom, causes a fire or explosion that results in personal injury or property damage.
  • 8C. Clearly sets forth a misdemeanor penalty when a person intentionally sets a fire on school grounds, regardless of the value of damage caused thereby. Provides an appropriate charging option for cases that merit prosecution and eliminates ambiguity about damage thresholds caused by existing statutes in the context of school fires.
  • 8D. Broadens the sentencing options so that these correspond to the value of the damage caused When a person sets a fire and negligently allows it to spread.