Juvenile Firesetting



kids-playing-with-fireKids will be kids, right? Wrong. Children’s curiosity with fire is a natural progression in critical thinking and growth; however parents of children playing with or setting fires need to understand that this is not natural and very dangerous. According to the International Fire Marshals Association, in 1999 alone 41,900 child-playing fires were reported in the United States, (keep in mind that not every fire is reported). These reported fires resulted in165 civilian deaths, 1,901 civilian injuries and over $272 million in damages. It is a very serious issue. Parental behavior and supervision is a significant factor in many of these cases. Access to lighters and matches accounted for 72% of the reported fires in 1999 which caused 87% of the civilian deaths. Lack of supervision by adults or guardians proved crucial to these fire play/setting incidents. Any parent knows that a quiet room with children in it is a rare thing. If your kids are quiet, check in on them. Of the structures fires noted above in the home, the items ignited can be most commonly found in the bedrooms or on your child. These items include mattresses, bedding and clothing. These fires are often set accidentally by lighters. Often times, children will hide under beds or covers because they are doing something they are not supposed to do. Trash fires are a close second to those listed above which are primarily set by match play. A child will light a match, think that they may have blown it out and throw it away. Little do they know that the match is still hot or not completely extinguished, causing materials within the trash can to ignite. All big fires start small, children may set a small fire thinking that they can put it out and before they know it, it is out of control. For the safety of your children, your home, and yourself, please supervise your children!


As stated before, curiosity about fire is common. Think about how much you use fire in your home. Fire is often times used for celebrations or enjoyment. You light candles on a birthday cake and sing. You light candles for holidays to celebrate or decorate. You have a big 4th of July celebration with a lit barbeque and fireworks. It is easy to see how children are used to seeing fire and view it as fun, although it is not always safe. Inappropriate use of fire has serious consequences. So keep in mind, all fires start out small and grow big. Just like your child.

If your child is between 0-2 years old:
  • Children typically do not understand what fire is or where it comes from.
  • Most often children of this age group are carefully supervised as they really can not do much for themselves.
If your child is between 3-4 years old:
  • Children are on the move! This age group loves to explore new things and new places.
  • Children of this age group imitate adults.
  • Children of this age usually start asking questions about fire. Even if its not directly correlated to fire per say; questions may be asked about fire engines, firefighters, and things they may see on TV. (Keep in mind our area news does a pretty good job on reporting wildland, vehicle, and home fires.)
If your child is between 5-7 years old:
  • Children at this age have short attention spans.
  • Children start attending school and socialize outside of the family.
  • Children may pretend to smoke cigarettes or light them to act like an adult.
  • Children may ask to help light fireplaces or the grill.
If your child is between 8-11 years old:
  • Children usually want to do things well and become involved in an activity, i.e. sports, music, scouts, or dance.
  • Children’s social life expands. Children start sleeping over at a friend’s house, where your supervision will be limited to none.
  • Children’s critical thinking kicks in. They know what tools are and will start the process of asking “What will happen if I do this?”
  • In the State of Colorado, children at the age of 10 can be tried as an adult for felony arson.
If your child is between 12-17 years old:
  • Growing adolescents commonly have mood changes and emotional outburst.
  • Children are subjected to peer pressure.
  • Children seek acceptance by others and friends.
  • Adolescents often complain of “boredom” or “nothing to do”.
  • Accelerants (gasoline or aerosols) may be used in conjunction with lighters and matches.
  • Activities in school such as science experiments may spark interest among adolescents and they may experiment outside of school with fire or explosives such as fireworks.


The Curiosity Firesetter:

This type of Firesetter is one that shows curiosity about fire and has not yet been taught about fire safety and may not know right from wrong. The child’s motivation comes from “how does fire work and what does it do?” Their intent is not to start a large fire, hurt someone or destroy property. Tools used by a curiosity firesetters are things usually found around the house, such as cigarette and barbeque lighters, matches, lit candles and stoves. Addressing your child’s curiosity and educating your child on fire safety are the best bet to prevent future firesetting behavior.

Crisis Firesetter:

This type of Firesetter is one who is setting fires in a cry for help due to recent crisis. This may include but not limited to, death of someone significant to the child, divorce, family conflict, school problems, or physical/sexual abuse. These children are trying to communicate their hurt or anger. It is imperative that these children receive the education, counseling and attention they need to prevent these emotions from resulting in firesetting.

Delinquent Firesetter:

This type of Firesetter is one who is setting fires in an attempt for a cure for boredom, defiance, or acceptance of peer pressure. Use of fireworks illegally is also considered firesetting. These Firesetters often show little or no remorse for the fires they may have set and do not recognize the serious consequences of their actions. Addressing this type of Firesetter is necessary in order to educate the youth about the consequences of their actions including life safety, financial and criminal.

Pathological Firesetter:

This type of Firesetter may have a long history of firesetting resulting of no or insufficient education or intervention. These youth may have psychological or psychiatric problems or have suffered from prolonged physical or sexual abuse. This type of Firesetter has a fascination with fire and receives joy in starting fires. He/she may also believe that fire is the ONE thing they can control. The fires set are often planned. These Firesetters need immediate therapeutic intervention and possibly hospitalization.


It does not matter the age or motive for your child’s firesetting, all of the above are serious behaviors that should not be ignored or brushed off as being “just a part of growing up.” If there is no education or intervention it is more than likely that your child will continue with the firesetting behavior which may have deadly consequences. If you have questions on how to answer your child’s questions about fire or are concerned with your child’s curiosity, contact Firefighter Valerie Marshall. You can also schedule a time to visit the station to have a fire safety lesson taught to your children, but adult supervision is necessary.