Juvenile Firesetting

Juvenile Firesetter Statistics

  • Children set more than 250,000 fires annually.
  • Over 40% of juvenile firesetters are under age 5, and 70% are under age 10.
  •  55% of all U.S. arson arrests are children under the age of 18.
  • Almost half of these arrests are children 15 and under.
  • As many as 6.8% of juveniles arrested for arson are under the age of 10.
  • 80% of juvenile firesetters will be repeat firesetters without intervention.
  • The crime of arson has the highest rate of juvenile involvement.

Juvenile Firesetting Consequences

  • These fires cause more 300 deaths and more than $350 million dollars in damage annually.
  • It is the 2nd leading cause of all fatal home accidents.
  • Firesetting is the largest cause of home deaths among children.
  • Almost 34% of the victims of child-set fires are the children themselves.

These statistics may be low, because many fires that cause only minor damage or injury go unreported by the parents. Child firesetters set, on the average, 5 fires that are extinguished and not reported to the authorities prior to the incident that gains them the attention of outside officials.

Types of Juvenile Firesetters

1. Curiosity Firesetter

The child sets the fire either accidentally or through curiosity

  • Ages are typically between of 3 – 7 years old.
  • They are unaware of fire’s dangers and destructive nature, therefore they do not fear fire
  • They want to find out how fire feels, how it burns or what it does
  • Lighters and matches may fascinate them.
  • They enjoy imitating adults who light candles, grills, fireplaces, or cigarettes.
  • Ignite household items.
  • Hide to light fires (under beds or in closets).

2. Problem Firesetter

The child sets fires as a way to act out anger, frustration and the feeling of being powerless. They may be going through a stressful situation such as a relocation, death or divorce.

  • Ages are typically between 7-14 years old.
  • Lights relatively simple fires.
  •  Uses matches or lighters.
  • Fire may symbolize a crisis in the child’s life.
  • Actions may be the child’s cry for help.

3. Delinquent Firesetter

The juvenile uses the fire to cause malicious mischief or to rebel against authority.

  • Ages are typically older, between 13 – 18 years old.
  • The juvenile knows the dangers of fire.
  • Fires are set to cause purposeful harm or destruction.
  • Most often fires are set with peers.
  • Typical fires include school fires, fireworks, smoke bombs, false alarms, and outdoor locations such as dumpsters, brush, fences, and trash cans.

Firesetting behavior can also be due to an emotional or mental disorder. Chronic behaviors such as poor relationships with other children, cruelty to animals and extreme mood changes are a few of the traits revealed that could trigger firesetting. Fires may be very sophisticated and destructive in nature. This type of firesetting behavior has to be taken seriously and professional help should be sought.

Key Factors Influencing Firesetting

  • Easy access to lighters and matches—In many homes where a child or adolescent was involved in starting a fire, they easily discovered the matches or lighter or knew exactly where to find them. Keep your matches or lighters in secure locations. Inform your child that you will be randomly checking his/her pockets, backpacks, and rooms for matches and lighters.
  • Supervision/Awareness -Providing supervision and being aware of firesetting behavior is important. Parents are often shocked to learn their child was engaged in firesetting over a prolonged period of time.
  • Failure to teach and practice fire safety—Young children, teens, and even parents often lack understanding of the dangers associated with firesetting and safety rules about fire. Adults should model and practice fire safety everyday.
  • Easy access to information on Internet—Technology has made explicit media available to youths about many dangerous and often illegal activities for them to replicate. Be aware of what your child is exposed to via the Internet.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Of Setting Fires

If your child is displaying firesetting behavior, you and your family are at a higher risk for suffering the consequences of fire. Remember, you are not the only parent/guardian to ever face this problem. Contact Dinwiddie Fire & EMS at (804) 469-5388 immediately. Explain the situation and we can help connect you with appropriate programs and services to deal with the situation.

What Parents Can Do To Reduce Firesetting

  • Supervision by adults decreases the opportunity to set fires
  • Teach children of all ages that fires, even small ones, can spread quickly.
  • Teach young children that fire is a tool, not a toy, and only used by adults.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of sight and out of reach.
  • Always use fire with care and set a good example by using matches, lighters, and candles carefully
  • Teach children to show you when they find matches and lighters.
  • Teach older children proper techniques for using fire.
  • Point out to your children the fire safety rules you and others follow throughout the day.
  • Talk to your children about the legal consequences of firesetting.

What Families Can Do To Prevent Fires

  • Regularly inspect your home for fire hazards
  • Install and maintain working smoke alarms throughout your home.
  • Plan and practice home fire escape drills that include two ways out from every room
  • Install residential sprinklers in your home