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Inside the mind of an arsonist, according to psychologists

Posted: 5:01 PM, Aug 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-31 00:03:52Z

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- San Diego County’s latest arson arrest is shedding light on an issue that can turn both dangerous and deadly in Southern California’s dry climate.

Monday, 21-year-old Daniel Reyes Ortega was charged with setting fire to forest land. Ortega reportedly set fire to a dry plot of land located on the 11000 block of SR-67.

That fire burned only half an acre, but isn’t the only recent example of just how dangerous arson can be. In early August, Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was arrested for reportedly starting the Holy Fire in Orange County.

RELATED: Man arrested, accused of starting fire off SR-67 in Lakeside  

In video captured by 10News, Clark can be seen walking up to firefighters and asking if they stole his money.

Following his second arraignment filled with outbursts, Clark was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations.

During the second arraignment, Clark disrupted proceedings, saying he was innocent and questioning Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger.

RELATED: Judge orders psychiatric evaluations for Holy Fire suspect  

According to WebMD , psychologists and the FBI have over the years profiled arsonists to try and figure out what causes them to start fires. Though the most common reason for arson is insurance, psychologist Joel Dvoskin says anger also plays a role in a number of other cases.

WebMD reports that, according to FBI reports, the majority of profiled arsonists have a below-normal IQ, typically between 70 and 90. Dvoskin told the site, "Honestly, I can't think of a single arsonist I've dealt with for whom anger wasn't the primary motivator."

The FBI report further states that half of all arsons are committed by those younger than 18, the other half are typically in their late 20s. Fires started by older people are usually motivated by money. 

Roughly 90 percent of all arsonists are men who are typically white, the FBI says. 

Though the above qualifiers describe those who have been caught starting fires, Dvoskin says profiling those who commit the crime isn’t foolproof.

This is because such profiles are based on those who are caught, but Dvoskin says most arsonists remain free. "It could be that the smarter people get away with it, and less smart people are more likely to get caught,” he told WebMD.