District on Fire: Arson in DC from 2012-2016

District on Fire: Arson in DC from 2012-2016


I was listening to the news and they mentioned a house fire that was likely arson. I wondered how often arson occurs in DC. I felt like it has to be somewhat rare, but I really had no idea.

Luckily, Open Data DC has crime data, including cases of arson in the district by Ward. Arson is defined in DC as (take a deep breath):

“The malicious burning or attempt to burn any dwelling, house, barn, or stable adjoining thereto, or any store, barn, or outhouse, or any shop, office, stable, store, warehouse, or any other building, or any steamboat, vessel, canal boat, or other watercraft, or any railroad car, the property, in whole or in part, of another person, or any church, meetinghouse, schoolhouse, or any of the public buildings in the District, belonging to the United States or DC.”

There are a few takeaways from this map (Note: Clicking on the flame or water drop gives you additional information):

  • Cases of arson drastically declined in 2015 and 2016. For example, in 2012 there are over 30 cases, in 2016 there were 6. Either the police and fire departments deserve a big round of applause or there are data quality issues. Maybe cases in 2015 and 2016 are pending court cases that aren’t yet reflected in the data?
  • Most cases of arson occur in Wards 7 and 8 (southwest). These are also lower-income areas of DC.
  • Ward 1 had only 1 case of arson in 5 years. This is compared to 34 in Ward 8.
  • The distribution of fire stations is interesting. For example, Ward 7 only has 3 (and two of them are close to each other) and the third is pretty far away. I have no idea how the location of fire stations are determined, hopefully there is a good reason why Wards 4 and 7 “only” have 3.

Analysis done using with R and RStudio.

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