Homeowners Begin Tallying the Wildfire Damage

As wildfires in Southern California continue to burn, thousands of evacuees have been allowed to return home.

San Diego damage assessment teams are fanning out across the county to calculate the costs to homeowners in burned-out neighborhoods. The inspectors' reports are posted on the county's Web site and are often the first information homeowners have about the status of their homes. The information is also used by insurance companies and FEMA.

Tamara Keith of member station KQED tagged along and reports.

Also, the Santiago fire in Orange County has burned at least 23,000 acres and is now being investigated as arson. Why would someone deliberately wreak havoc with fire?

Dian Williams, director of the Center for Arson Research and author of Understanding the Arsonist: From Assessment to Confession, says arsonists are driven by various motivations. For some, it is the thrill of getting away with starting the fire. For others, the fire could be an act of revenge against a person or an entity.

Arsonists do fit a gender profile — 96 percent are men. Williams says women tend to act against themselves — eating disorders, depression — while men tend to act out, such as by committing arson.

She says arsonists tend to express no remorse or sadness for their actions and are among the most difficult criminals to prosecute. Only about 17 percent of arson cases are successfully prosecuted because there is rarely any evidence or witnesses, and arsonists typically do not confess.

Those who are convicted will not be reformed though incarceration. Williams says as soon as an arsonist is released, he will go back to starting fires.

The best way to treat a person inclined to commit arson is during childhood, she says. Even if an arsonist is not arrested for causing a fire until adulthood, it will not have been the first fire he started.

Williams shares her insights on arsonists with Alex Cohen.

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