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Community Development

Fire prevention
Youth fire setting

Fire setting is an extremely dangerous and often overlooked behavior. Although curiosity is a normal part of children's growth and development, parents who discover that a child is playing with fire should take it very seriously.

- Why children set fires
- Consequences of fire setting
- What parents can do

Why children set fires

Fire setting is a symptom of a problem communicating a need in a very powerful and destructive manner. Most experts agree that the best way to understand fire setting behavior is to look at where and why children set fire. They believe there are two basic types of juvenile fire setters.

  • Curiosity fire setters are 2-7 years old and have a fascination with fire that leads them to “play” with it to find out how it feels, how it burns, and what it does. They do not understand fire’s destructive potential.
  • Complex fire setters can also be very young, but generally are 5-17 years old. These juveniles light fires because of emotional or mental disturbances ranging from mild to severe. A crisis in a child’s life, such as moving to a new area, a death, or divorce could trigger fire setting behavior.

Consequences of fire setting

Children as young as eight years old who are involved in significant fires resulting in property loss, personal injury, or death can be arrested for arson. Charging a juvenile for arson ensures that this extremely dangerous and often-overlooked behavior receives the attention it deserves.

Juvenile arson and youth-set fires result in over 300 deaths and 2,500 injuries annually, and cause $300 million in property damage. Children are twice as likely to die in a fire that they start themselves.

What parents can do

  • Install and maintain smoke alarms.
  • Plan and practice home fire escape drills.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children; lock them up if necessary.
  • Report all fires regardless of size to the fire department.
  • Spend time with your children. Talk with them and listen to them. Set a good example. How you live your life impacts greatly on how your children live their lives. Talk to your children about the realities of the law. A fire that is set can lead to a felony charge of arson. This is a serious crime.
  • Fire can destroy property, injure others, or take lives. You are responsible for damage caused by your child.
  • Seek assistance if your child has started a fire or is playing with ignition sources.

For more information, contact:
Susan Anderson, Senior Deputy Fire Marshal
(360) 397-2186 ext. 3321

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