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Children & Fire: A Deadly Combination

Children playing with matches. Juvenile fire setting. Fire starting. These are all phrases that describe a problem that has received a growing amount of attention.

Why do so many children - why does any child - light fires? More importantly, what can we do to stop them?

Most experts agree that the best way to understand a child's fire setting is by looking at the context and motivation for the behavior. There are four types of fire setting. For each type there is a different strategy used to stop the behavior.

1. Curiosity Fire Setting

Child Fire Motivation Risks Treatment
Usually 3-7 years old

Almost always a boy; possibly hyperactive

usually alone
Usually in a closet or under a bed

hidden origin; matches or lighter

panics if fire gets out of control
Child is curious and plays with fire to learn about it. Because the child doesn't understand the consequences of his actions, the fire can cause major damage. Fire safety education

2. Crisis Fire Setting

Child Fire Motivation Risks Treatment
Usually 5-10 years old

almost always a boy

sudden change in life or recent trauma

almost always alone
highly symbolic fire

someone's posessions or clothes, or a specific location related to stress
Child is using fire as a "cry for help" to show his inability to cope with the sudden change The child will continue until stress is relieved or he is taught safer ways to cope. Counseling and education

3. Delinquent Fire Setting

Child Fire Motivation Risks Treatment
Usually 10-14 years old

boys and girls

always in a group
usually an outdoor location

vandalism type fires
? Can cause harm to self and others Restitution and education

4. Problem Fire Setting

Child Fire Motivation Risks Treatment
usually 7-12 years old

almost always boys

history of school and social problems

almost always alone

aggressive and problem behaviors
random or ritualized, usually in or around the home Often no clear cut motivation for fire setting Very high reoccurrence Counseling