a criminal offense occurring when a person intentionally sets fire to or burns something; and the person acted wrongfully and without justification, or the person did something which was a substantial step toward committing the crime. [Mere preparation is not a substantial step toward committing a crime.] (2) Under common law, the malicious burning of the house owned by another person; under statutes, the house need not be one owned by another person.
Any willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud, a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle, or aircraft, personal property of another, etc. Some jurisdictions define "arson" as the intentional setting of a fire to a building in which people live; others include as "arson" the intentionally setting of a fire to any building.
At common law an offence of the degree of felony; and is defined by Lord Coke to be the malicious and voluntary burning of the house of another, by night or day.
In order to make this crime complete, there must be, 1st, a burning of the house, or some part of it; it is sufficient if any part be consumed, however small it may be. The house burnt must; belong to another; but if a man set fire to his own house with a view to burn his neighbor's, and does so, it is at least a great misdemeanor, if not a felony. The burning must have been both malicious and willful.
The offence of arson at common law, does not extend further than the burning of the house of another. By statute this crime is greatly enlarged in some of the states, as in Pennsylvania, where it is extended to the burning of any barn or outhouse having bay or grain therein; any barrack, rick or stack of hay, grain, or bark; any public buildings, church or meeting-house, college, school or library.