Norcal, that tale is just too funny; it sounds like something out of an old silent movie.
Let's look at it through more jaded eyes:
These days, the GC would be cited for burning without a permit. The EPA would claim he released lead (paint) into the air.
The GC would meet the owner and, with a straight face, inform him that additional demolition was unavoidable- and present a bill.
The guy who burned the place down would enjoy a year or two of leisurely unemployment, then claim he had lost his job to the 'bad economy,' or that he was late too often because of car trouble, or some such.
A realtor would take a picture of the place from an angle that concealed any hint of fire - I've seen this happen three times in a town of 15,000 - then place it on the market at a price slightly HIGHER than the perfectly good house across the street. (Remember those warnings about buying sight unseen?)
The half-burned hulk will sit there for a decade, and become a stopover for druggies and petty criminals. Eventually, the city will clean it up and we'll be stuck with the bill.
With the lot now in the city's hands, every sort of do-gooder group will ask for tax dollars to do wondrous things to 'reclaim' the declining neighborhood. Heck, give me a free lot and a $3 Million grant, and I can do wondrous things- starting with a winter 'planning conference' in the South of France!