Purpose - Malmö city has experienced several waves of fire outbursts between 1990-2008, severely affecting both property owners and inhabitants of some neighbourhoods. The purpose is to analyze the socio-economic patterns underlying sudden outbursts of malicious fires in Malmö.Design/methodology/approach - Statistical/GIS-based methods on neighbourhood data.Findings - The most prominent and stable variable explaining the number of fires is the number of youths in an area. However, the socio-economic characteristics of the area are important, since the number of youths only seem to explain the outbursts in areas with a certain level of distress. Specifically, the education level but also crowdedness in the area seem to be important risk factors. Practical implications: The study if part of a project undertaken together with the municipality, contributing to local policies. The findings suggest relevant indicators for forestalling similar incidents.Originality/value - The study contributes to the literature primarily in terms of testing criminological theories in a geographic/urban setting. It also develops methodology by focusing on the geographic context.