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Arson is the intentional burning of property—such as a building, car, boat, crops, or trees—with criminal or fraudulent intent. The criminal intent or motive behind arson is often insurance fraud—such as when the owner of property intentionally burns it and then files an insurance claim without disclosing the owner intentionally started the fire.

Arson is a felony offense under most state laws, but there are often different degrees of severity, depending on factors such as whether the fire results in physical injury or death. Arson is also a crime under federal law, which makes it illegal to use fire or an explosive to damage or destroy property used in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

In Texas, arson is defined under the Texas Penal Code Section 28.02 as starting a fire, regardless of whether the fire continues after ignition, or causing an explosion with intent to destroy or damage any vegetation, fence, or structure on open-space land or any building, habitation, or vehicle. The intent behind arson, such as insurance fraud, is a critical element of the crime. Arson is considered a second-degree felony in Texas, but it can be elevated to a first-degree felony if the property was a habitation or a place of assembly or worship, or if the fire caused bodily injury or death. Additionally, arson becomes a state jail felony if the property was a fence or vegetation on open-space land. Federal law also criminalizes arson when it involves property used in interstate or foreign commerce, or affects such commerce. The severity of the punishment under both state and federal law can vary based on the circumstances of the crime, including the presence of injuries or fatalities.

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