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Human Geography

Nicklas Guldåker

Senior Lecturer, Deputy Head of Department

Human Geography

STADENS BRÄNDER Del 1 - Anlagda bränder och Malmös sociala geografi.


  • Nicklas Guldåker
  • Per-Olof Hallin

Summary, in English

Since the end of the 1990s, the number of fires increases dramatically in the city of Malmö. Between 1998 and 2009, the increase was 215 percent. A growing number of the fires are intentional and take place outdoors. Most of the fires are also concentrated in a limited number of neighborhoods. Furthermore, many schools are affected. Between 2000 and 2011, nearly 360 intentional fires occurred in schools. In addition, conflicts between groups of teenage boys and young men on the one hand, and the police and the emergency services on the other occurred during this time period. In these conflicts, fire-setting is used as a conflict practice.

The aim of this report is to:

Analyze if intentional fires can be seen as an expression of changing social condi-tions in the Swedish society in general, and in Malmö's social geography in particular.

Examine children’s and young people's views to fire-setting, and analyze if fire-setting can be part of children’s and young people's conflict and protest strat-egies against authorities such as the po-lice and the emergency services.

Analyze when and how intentional fires are started in schools and why schools are exposed to vandalism and fire-setting.

From an area-based approach, propose inter-disciplinary working methods in or-der to reduce fire-setting.

The main conclusions of the report are:

The rapid increase of intentional fires in Malmö during the early 2000s, can be mainly explained by two social processes. The first process relates to the illegal burning of copper cable in order to access copper. “Cable fires” account for about 11 % of the total number of intentional fires between 2000 and 2011.The second process concerns the increasing number of intentional fires in certain neighborhoods. Between 2000 and 2009, two sub-areas account for nearly 30 % of the increase of intentional fires, and of the investigated sub-areas, 10 % account for 75 % of the increased number of intentional fires. These areas are characterized by poor living conditions. The two most fire exposed sub-areas have a high proportion of children and young people, and many overcrowded residences. A statistical analysis shows that the number of children and the level of education are the two key factors behind intentional fires. The combination of factors such as informal population growth, a system with many informal second and third-hand apartment contracts, poor health and high health care needs in the population and the low proportion of elementary school students with upper secondary school eligibility, create conditions of high social, economic and psychological stress. On specific occasions, conflicts between youth and police authorities have occurred, these became particularly severe during the winter of 2008 and the spring of 2009.

For young people in certain disadvantaged neighborhoods, fire-setting is a frequent phenomenon and part of everyday life. There are several reasons why intentional fires are started. Some of the motives presented in focus group interviews were excitement, attention, group belonging, frustration, vandalism and vengeance. Other motives are to interrupt school activities, conceal crimes or to earn money. The results from this study to a large extent confirm earlier research but also stress an increasingly important factor. This is that teenage boys and young men are beginning to use fire-setting as part of a conflict practice primarily targeted against the police, but also against the emergency services. From having been a sporadic phenomenon in the mid-2000s, this type of conflict practice rose significantly in 2008 and 2009. Fire-setting in conflicts has also occurred in several neighborhoods as recently as the late fall and winter 2012, in which cars have been set on fire in conflicts with police.

Intentional fires in schools are more frequent in Malmö compared to other major cities in Sweden. Of all elementary school types, secondary schools (where students are 12-15 years old) are most affected. Between 2000 and 2011, 8 % of the elementary schools ac-count for nearly 40 % of school fires in Malmö. These schools are often located in or directly connected to fire-affected neighbor-hoods. This indicates neighborhood effects, where causes of intentional fires in schools and in adjacent neighborhoods can be traced to similar social processes. Important factors that can be related to school fires include the proportion of students who are not eligible for upper secondary school (gymnasium), students’ influence in schools and support from school personnel. If students do not experience autonomy in school they seek it in activities outside the school environment, e.g. through various types of recreational activities such as sports. If students do not find autonomy in such activities, they may find it in antisocial behavior such as vandalism at school, and even worse, in fire-setting. One conclusion is that the risk of fire-setting in schools increases with a higher proportion of unqualified students to upper secondary school. However, this risk can be reduced if students feel that they have influence in school, if they feel they have support from the school personnel and if they have stimulating leisure activities. Intentional fires must be addressed in a wider context which includes more intensive work with safety and security, and more specific and preventive measures against intentional fires. Coordinated action between authorities in fire prone neighborhoods is a requirement. Another strategic priority is to involve residents and other members of the community in the preventive work. The report stresses the importance of three preventative measures: structural prevention for better living conditions, social prevention to support families and individuals, and contextual prevention to implement area-based measures.


  • Department of Human Geography

Publishing year








Document type



Malmö Publikationer i Urbana Studier


  • Human Geography


  • Intentional fires
  • Arson
  • Malmö City
  • school
  • fire-setting
  • risk
  • conflicts




  • Incendiary fires - Social processes of change and preventive measures


  • ISSN: 1654-6881