Parents Should Pay Attention To Children's Interest In Fire

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Recently, the Payson Fire Department has experienced several fires that were caused by juveniles and their curiosity with fire. We hope the following information can be used to instruct your child or young family member in the proper use and reason for fire.

How big is the problem? In the U.S., in 1998 juvenile fire setters accounted for 63 percent of arson arrests, compared to 52 percent in 1997 and approximately 48 percent over the last 15 years. Juveniles commit 59 percent of school arsons. Fire is the number one cause of death in the home for children ages 5 to 14. It is estimated that as many as 10 percent of the fires started by children go unreported to authorities, because a family member will discover and put the fire out. Arson defined: The malicious and willful burning of any structure, forested land, or property. An older youth who is involved in arson may be charged and sentenced depending on state laws.

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Marty deMasi

Children start fires for many reasons. If a child plays with fire, that does not mean they have a problem, or are a problem child. When a child has repeated or intentional fire starting behaviors, fascination with fire may become a problem.

Through education, and in some cases counseling, children and their families can be given the skills to change this dangerous behavior. Studies show that fires started by children playing with matches and lighters are the leading cause of fire deaths for pre-school children. Fire holds a strong fascination for children.

What is a fire setter, are they natural curious or do they have a serious problem? Fire setters may have a wide range of behavior, varying from the preschooler's curiosity to a malicious youth that deliberately set fires.

Fire interest

Children under the age of 7 who ask about fire, incorporate fire-related objects into play or ask permission to participate in supervised activities, such as lighting a grill, are showing normal curiosity.

Children between the ages of 5 and 10 may unintentionally start fires, usually while unsupervised, and will make a serious attempt to extinguish the fire or go for help.

Destructive fires, which are generally started in closets or under beds, usually surprise and may even frighten them.

Crisis fire setters, signs and symptoms

Children between the ages of 7 and 18 who intentionally seek fire-starting materials, ignite paper, leaves or personal property may be a crisis fire setter.

Behavior similar to this could be related to: stress, death, moving, divorce, anger, a need for attention, malicious mischief or excitement.

When to be concerned

With an innate curiosity to learn, children are especially attracted to fire and must be taught to understand its ability to hurt and destroy.

Fire setting is usually an expression of a child's feelings or a cry for help.

Children in homes where domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, or chaotic parenting styles occur are at a greater risk.

Possible warning signs:

  • Playing with matches or lighters.
  • Trying to burn items.
  • Carries fire-starting materials in pockets or has them in their room.
  • Talking about fire frequently.
  • Asking how "particular" materials might burn.

Ages 5 and under

Meet your child's curiosity early on. Fireproof your home and teach children not to touch matches or lighters. Teach that adults, not children, use fire.

Keep matches and lighters out of children's sight and reach. Teach children that if they find matches or lighters, not to touch them, but go get an adult. Praise children for reporting any matches or lighter they may find.

Ages 5 and older

If an older child is curious about fire, show the proper and safe way to use matches or lighters. Explain that fire is a tool.

Discuss what to do if a fire is started.

Punishment, and "scare tactics" will not always satisfy a child's curiosity.

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