When the kill count of a mass-murdering arsonist active in a small town reaches 31, the BAU are called in.


(as Felix Alcala)


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Tina Wheeler
Dr. Rawlings
Tommy Wheeler
Fire Captain Danny Wales
Chief Tom Schultz


A serial arsonist is active in Royal, Indiana. The arsonist went from setting fires in unoccupied buildings to largely populated ones. In the last two fires - in a community center and a movie theater - the death count reaches 31 people. The BAU realize that they have to tread lightly as they suspect the unsub to be a local, and with Royal being a small town, anyone they question will be the target of a public witch hunt. And with the high death count in such a small town, determining if there is a specific victimology is made more difficult. The arsonist strikes again when the BAU least expects. Because the latest fire is different than the previous ones, they believe the last fire is the one that holds the key to understanding the motivation and finding the perpetrator. This case is especially difficult for Garcia, who is asked to do things outside of her normal duties. Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis





Release Date:

25 March 2009 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


Michael Rooker, who plays Chief Carlson, portrayed the serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. See more »


When Garcia states that Tommy re-emerged at 21 in Franklin, Indiana, she says that that's 300 miles away from Royal, Indiana. However, 300 miles from Franklin would put Royal well outside of Indiana. If she's rounding, 300 kilometers would be close to Gary, where the doctor mentions taking the burn patient. (For reference, the entire length of Indiana is 270 miles.) See more »


David Rossi: [about a serial arsonist] Whoever set these went from no victims to thirty-one in less than two weeks. That's a hell of an escalation.
Emily Prentiss: Why didn't they call us in sooner?
Jennifer 'JJ' Jareau: The local police and fire department knew they were dealing with an arsonist, but they had no idea he'd become a killer.
Dr. Spencer Reid: Most arsonists don't. They just like setting fires; any deaths that occur are almost always accidental.
Derek Morgan: Thirty-one victims is not an accident.
Aaron Hotchner: Police chief knows he made a mistake. And he learned the hard way ...
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Features The Blob (1958) See more »


Criminal Minds Titelmusik
Written by Mark Mancina
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User Reviews

25 January 2017 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

As said a few times, Season 4 is a strong contender for the best season of 'Criminal Minds'. One where the lesser episodes, such as "Demonology" and "Catching Out", are still better than the worst episodes of particularly Seasons 9 and 11, and where there are so many classic episodes that picking a favourite is like trying to say what your favourite ice cream flavour is.

"House on Fire" is not quite up there as a classic, and is not quite as good as the near-elite previous episode "Omnivore", but is a solid and actually very good episode. Do have a preference for the serial killer plots of 'Criminal Minds', tending to in general not find stories based around arson attacks not quite as interesting, this said "House on Fire" manages to make a compelling, emotional and disturbing episode out of this type of story.

There is not much wrong here. Some of the "tricks" in the editing didn't add as much as they could have done, a few unneeded, and there is the slight sense that the first appearance of Tina gives away a little too much.

On the other hand, some editing aside, "House on Fire" is again a well made 'Criminal Minds' episode, stylishly photographed and atmospheric. The music has the right amount of haunting mood and the odd bouts of melancholy.

Writing is tightly structured and thought-provoking, with all the classic writing ingredients for 'Criminal Minds' there, with the chemistry between Hotch and Garcia being particularly striking. The story is absorbing, with all the twists and turns making sense and wrapped up neatly (without being too much so), with a good deal to feel emotional over and some disturbing scenes.

Regarding the disturbing scenes, this is particularly true of the opening scene, so harrowing that one may be put off from setting foot in a cinema for a while, and the shocking backstory of the unsub. Loved what was done with Garcia here, she takes on a different and bigger role and proves herself essential to solving the case and we see a more flawed and vulnerable side that comes over with a lot of realism.

As to be expected, the acting is very good. Kirsten Vangsness is outstanding here, while Michael Rooker proves to be great casting with a performance to match.

Overall, a disturbing and very well done episode. 8/10 Bethany Cox

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