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Massachusetts Arson Laws

A fire can start for many different reasons - by accident, because of a natural disaster, or after a controlled burn. However, if a person "willfully and maliciously" starts a fire, they'll likely face arson charges. While each jurisdiction defines arson in its own way, most all of them - including Massachusetts - treat arson as a very serious crime.

Attempted Arson

In Massachusetts, attempted arson is also treated as a serious crime. Attempt is defined as willfully and maliciously attempting to set a fire to or assisting in such an attempt. For purposes of the statute, attempt includes placing flammable substances or devices in or next to a building or property with the intent to eventually willfully and maliciously burn the building or property. A conviction of attempted arson can result in imprisonment in the state prison for up to 10 years, or in jail for up to two and half years or a fine of up to $1,000.

Summary of Massachusetts Arson Laws

While it's important to read the actual language of a statute when researching questions about the law, it can take more time than you'd like to interpret the language since statutes are usually written using legal jargon. That's why it can be just as important to read a summary of the statutes in plain English. Below you'll find key summaries of key provisions of Massachusetts arson laws as well as links to the relevant statutes.


Massachusetts General Laws Part IV, Title I Ch. 266:

  • Section 1 (Dwelling Houses: Burning or Aiding in Burning)
  • Section 2 (Meeting House: Burning or Aiding in Burning)
  • Section 5 (Wood and Other Property: Burning or Aiding in Burning)
Prohibited Behavior and Definitions

Violating Massachusetts arson laws involves setting a fire or burning something willfully and maliciously. The distinction between the three statutes listed above is the character of the property that's burned. Some examples* of what constitutes dwelling houses, meeting houses, and wood and other property are listed below:

  • Dwelling House: house, apartments, hotels, hospitals, boarding houses, dorms, institutions, etc.
  • Meeting House: building for public use (i.e. court house, church, college, jail), office building, shop, warehouse, bank, ship, railway car, bridge, or dam.
  • Wood and Other Property: wood, fence, hay, standing tree, grass, someone else's personal property valued at more than $25, boat, or motor vehicle.

*The examples listed are not exhaustive. For a full list, please see the statutes.


Violation of Section 1 is punishable by:

  • Up to 20 years in state prison;
  • Up to 2 ½ years in jail;
  • Fine of up to $10,000; or
  • By both a fine and imprisonment.

Violation of Section 2 is punishable by:

  • Up to 10 years in state prison; or
  • Up to 2 ½ years in jail.

Violation of Section 5 is punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years in state prison; or
  • Up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Related Statute(s)

Massachusetts General Laws Part IV, Title I Ch. 266:

  • Section 7 (Woods: Wanton or Reckless Injury or Destruction by Fire)
  • Section 8 (Injury by Fire: Negligent Use)
  • Section 9 (Injury by Fire: Negligent Use in Town)
  • Section 10 (Insured Property: Burning with Intent to Defraud)

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.

Massachusetts Arson Laws: Related Resources

For additional resources and information related to this topic, you can visit the links below.

Charged with Arson in Massachusetts? Get in Touch with an Attorney

As you can see, arson is a serious crime in Massachusetts, and a conviction will likely result in imprisonment. However, the government has the difficult burden of proving each element of the crime, including your intent, beyond a reasonable doubt. Considering the consequences and the heavy burden of the government, it's in your best interest to get in touch with a local criminal defense attorney to learn about your rights and possible defenses.

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