A four-alarm fire last year in the historic Old City block of Philadelphia has been ruled an arson. While the investigation is ongoing, the incident provides a glimpse of a relatively rare detail about historic buildings that are outlined in the state's arson law.
Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento explains.
Old City Fire Declared Arson One Year Later
The massive fire happened almost exactly a year ago, on February 18, 2018, at 239 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The building, which had been built in 1852 and was a part of the Old City Historic District that was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, was a total loss in the four-alarm blaze. Neighboring buildings were also seriously impacted by the fire. Dozens of businesses were affected, and scores of people lost homes or belongings from the fire and the water damage that it led to.
Now, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has determined that the fire was deliberately set. The Bureau, however, refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Arson Crimes in Philadelphia
Arson is prohibited by 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301, which defines the offense as intentionally starting a fire or explosion that puts someone else in serious danger or for the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building.
However, there are other criminal statutes that prohibit arson in particular circumstances. One of these is § 3301(a.2), which makes it illegal to start a fire or an explosion with the intent of destroying or damaging a historic resource.
Severe Penalties for a Conviction for Arson
In nearly all circumstances, an accusation of arson in Philadelphia is a felony-level offense that comes with severe penalties upon conviction. When the offense is for setting fire to a historic resource, there can also be a charge for a second-degree felony. Therefore, a conviction for setting fire to a historic building can come with up to ten years in jail and up to $25,000 in fines. Additionally, the felony-level offense on your criminal background can prove to be a difficult burden to overcome in your future.
However, if the arson involves an occupied building and one of the inhabitants – or anyone else, for that matter – dies from the blaze, then the charges of arson become much more severe. In these cases, murder charges can follow on top of the underlying arson offense.
Joseph D. Lento Defends Those Charged of a Crime in Philadelphia
Arson is just one of the many property crimes that you can be accused of committing in Philadelphia. The sanctions that come with a conviction – especially if the building was one of the many historic ones in the city – can be severe enough to completely alter someone's life.
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney who defends Philadelphians against accusations that they broke the law, including the law that prohibits arson. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 to schedule a consultation and get your defense started.