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Virginia Arson Laws

Whether it's a raging wildfire in the forest or a chemical explosion in an office building, fires are unfortunate events. What's even more unfortunate is when the fires are a result of arson. Arson is a very serious property crime which not only results in the destruction of property, but can also end with injury and the loss of life. Due to the high stakes of the crime, state laws that criminalize arson provide strict penalties. Virginia law is in accordance with this practice.

Arson Offenses in Virginia

Virginia divides arson offenses into various categories. In addition to crimes that involve the actual arsonist, the law also contains provisions for aiding and abetting.This means that you even if you didn't strike a match or enter the scene of the crime, you can be punished to the same extent as the actual arsonist because you encouraged or assisted with the arson.

Arson offenses include the following:

  • Burning of a dwelling house
  • Burning or destruction of a meeting house
  • Burning or destruction of a structure
  • Burning of personal property

Virginia Arson Laws at a Glance

It's critical to understand every word of a statute especially when it concerns criminal charges. However, it's also helpful to get a general sense of what the statute conveys from a plain language version of the content. See the chart below for a synopsis of Virginia's arson laws.


  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-77 (burning of dwelling house)
  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-79 (burning of a meeting house)
  • Va. Code Ann. Section 18.2-80 (burning /destroying any other building/structure)
  • VA. Code Ann. Section 18.2-81(burning of personal property)

Arson Offenses

Burning of "dwelling house" (homes, manufactured homes, places of lodging):

  • Elements of the crime: The accused caused the burning (a slight burning is sufficient) of a dwelling house with criminal intent.
  • Penalty: Occupied structure: punishable by 5 years-life in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000. Unoccupied: punishable by 2-10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000.

Malicious burning of "meeting house" (courthouses, townhouses, colleges, churches, jails):

  • Penalty: Occupied structure: The punishment is 5-20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000. Unoccupied: punishable by 2-10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000.

Malicious burning of other structures (structures not covered in the other statutes):

  • Penalty: Occupied building: 5-20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000. Unoccupied: punishable by 2-10 years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000.

Burning/destroying personal property: burning or destroying (maliciously or with the intent to defraud an insurance company or other person) another's personal property.

  • Property value of $200 or more is categorized as a class 4 felony.
  • Property value of less than $200 is a class 1 misdemeanor.

Possible Defenses

  • Lack of intent
  • Mistake
  • Mistaken identity

Related Offenses

  • VA. Code Ann. Section 18.2-82 (arson while attempting to commit a felony)
  • VA. Code Ann. Section 18.2-83 (bomb threats)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Virginia Arson Laws: Related Resources

Facing Arson Charges in Virginia? Connect with a Criminal Defense Attorney

An arson conviction can result in incarceration and hefty fines. If you're facing these very serious charges in Virginia, then make sure that you have an advocate on your side to help with your defense. Connect with an experienced defense attorney near you to get started.

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