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The person who started the fire that caused $25,000 damage last week at Valparaiso University's Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center could face very serious penalties if caught.

Indiana law states it is a Class B felony, punishable by as many as 20 years in prison, to use fire or a destructive device to damage a person's home or a place of worship. Even if a home or church isn't involved, it is still a Class B felony to cause $5,000 damage to someone's property, to endanger a life or to commit arson for hire.

The offense becomes a Class A felony, punishable by as many as 50 years in prison if someone is injured.

"All the crimes involving arson are going to be felony charges, very severe charges," Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes said.

Assistant Valparaiso Fire Chief Dan Lamb said arsonists generally strike for two reasons: to be malicious or to collect insurance money. Either way, arsonists create a dangerous situation and face serious charges.

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"Whenever there's a fire, it has to be brought under control and extinguished," Lamb said.

"Firefighters can be trapped inside a building or have a structure collapse. They can have an accident going to the fire."

Arson fires aren't too common in Porter County, but there have been arson fires that have killed people, cases of serial arsonists and incidents like the one Tuesday night that damaged VU's Cultural Center, which had been vacant for some time.

Although the more serious arson cases carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison, or 50 in the cases of injuries, even a fire that causes only $250 damage can get someone charged with Class D felony arson, which is punishable by as many as three years in prison.

And a person who commits arson for fraud can be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by as many as eight years in prison.

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