Criminal Minds (2005– )
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House on Fire 

"House on Fire" is an episode of Criminal Minds starring Joe Mantegna, Paget Brewster, and Shemar Moore. 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:
... David Rossi
... Emily Prentiss
... Derek Morgan
... Dr. Spencer Reid
... Jennifer Jareau
... Penelope Garcia
... Aaron Hotchner
... Chief Carlson
... Tina Wheeler
... Dr. Rawlings
... Tommy Wheeler
... Fire Captain Danny Wales
... Chief Tom Schultz
... Nancy
... Mother


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


TV-14 | See all certifications »




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?


The fire in the movie theater may be a play on the title of the paraphrasing of Oliver Wendell Holmes' "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater" 1919 opinion. 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 »


Theme from Criminal Minds
Composed by Marc Fantini and Steffan Fantini
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User Reviews

Sins of Omission
7 November 2010 | by See all my reviews

Having one's episode to follow an instant classic like "Omnivore" must have been viewed as a no-win situation. Network shows that have 20+ episodes per year have a tight filming schedule, so multiple scripts are being written simultaneously and the episodes might even be filmed in different order than broadcast. In any case, one sympathizes with the writer and director of this otherwise worthy episode.

There is a lot to recommend this episode: great concept, excellent guest roles from some of the best supporting actors around, Michael Rooker, who's proved he's more than just Henry, and Sam Anderson, probably best known as Bernard from Lost, but a familiar face to practically everyone who watches TV. And while the word 'recommend' feels uneasy when applied to the scene that *will* linger in your mind like a similar scene in Se7en (I won't spoil it), it means the creators have achieved something memorable. Reduced to its core idea, the back-story of the arsonist is ripped straight out of real world, which makes it all the more frightening and thought-provoking. It is even voiced out by Reid at three quarters into the episode.

However, this episode is also written straight into the Criminal Minds mold that gets pretty distracting and downright insulting when forced upon the viewer the umpteenth time: Needless editing tricks, scenes of the killer shot out of focus, overlays of the events upon the BAU agents at the scene of said event, lectures given to the local police - all these could be at least used more sparingly, and in the case of the overlays, eliminated entirely, because unintentional as it may be, showing what happened earlier while simultaneously showing the agents explaining what happened is insulting the audience's intelligence. Less is more. The writers and directors need look no further than the classic episodes of this very series. This could have been a 8/10 (clichés in the story out-ruling a 9/10), now it's "just" 7/10 (still very good).

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