Kids and Fire Setting
A 1994 survey conducted by Children's Hospital Colorado Burn Center concluded that more than 78 percent of children treated for flame burn injuries were burned in child-set fires.
Nearly 45 percent of the fires that kill children under 5 are started by children themselves. These deadly fires are most likely to be set in hidden places where there are many combustibles, particularly in bedrooms.
- FBI, Uniform Crime Report
Understanding Children’s Interest in Fire
Young children learn by exploring, experimenting, and by mimicking adult behavior. Unfortunately, when exploration, experimentation and imitation involves dangerous materials, such as matches and lighters, the result can be disastrous and even deadly.
From Interest to Danger
Almost every child has some curiosity about fire. But progression from a mere interest in fire to fire play and fire setting can result in devastating destruction and even death. Although fire setting results in larger amounts of property damage, fire play causes a greater number of injuries.
- Fireplay refers to fires set by those too young to understand the implications of their actions.
- Juvenile Fire Setting is defined as the deliberate actions of children old enough to understand what they are doing.
The following is a list of some “red flags” or indicators that your child may have a serious fire-setting problem. If your child has set more than one fire or has had more than one incident of fire play and one or more of the following, you are encouraged to seek professional help:
- Recent changes in behavior
- Deliberate efforts to collect fire materials
- Aggressive behavior
- Attention deficits, temper tantrums, mood swings, impulse behavior or anger
- Problems at school, such as discipline, learning problems or unexplained absences
- Other troublesome behaviors such as stealing, lying, and drug/alcohol use
- Failed to get help to extinguish fire
- Recent losses due to health, divorce, loss of friendship, moves, etc
- Boasts about fire sets
- Daydreams about fire
- Fire sets out of anger to harm others
When making a decision to regarding seeking professional help for fire play or fire setting behavior, always err on the side of caution and safety. Professional help can be obtained from your local fire department and/or mental health clinics.
Children's Hospital Colorado Burn Program is an excellent resource for help and can provide assessment and education services. You can contact our Fire Setting Program at 720-777-6661.
Things you can do to help
- Set good examples of fire-safe behavior
- Keep matches and lighters out of view and reach of children
- Keep matches and lighters locked up
- Teach your children to tell an adult if they find matches or a lighter
- Educate your children on the dangers of fire
- Watch for telltale signs of fire play experimentation (matches in pockets, burns, or smoky odor to clothing)
- Teach your children to avoid peer pressure and learn to say no!