The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that between 2007 and 2011, approximately 49,000 fires per year were reported to U.S. Fire Departments due to kids playing with fire. Annually, juvenile fire starting causes an average of 80 civilian deaths, 860 civilian injuries, and $235 million in property damage, and these averages don’t include fire service deaths, injuries, and/or property damage.
Children play with fire for a variety of reasons including curiosity, experimentation, mimicking older children or adult behavior, imagination play, a means of expression, revenge, uncontrolled anger, emotional trauma, an attempt to hide or conceal another wrongdoing, an attempt to camp, or an attempt to smoke. NFPA studies reported that, in general, younger children are more likely to set fires in the home, while older children are more likely to set fires outside; boys are more likely to play with fire than girls; lighters were used as a heat source in approximately half of the fires; and 39% of home fires associated with juvenile fire starting began in the bedroom.
The NFPA and other sources recommend the following to prevent juvenile fire starting:
- Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of younger children and in inaccessible or locked containers, drawers, or cabinets for older children.
- Teach young children to tell adults if they see lighters or matches anywhere.
- If wood burning stoves or fireplaces were a part of the winter routine, it’s time to clean up and close those devices and remove all fire-starting materials.
- Secure grills, fuel sources, and ignitors, lighters or matches from young children and teach them to stay away from them.
- Teach children of all ages that once a fire is started, it is difficult to control and can have permanent and irreversible consequences, including hurting them, the ones they love, and others.
- Adults should set a good example for children by not playing with fire or fireworks and by being good stewards of lighters, matches, candles, flame-powered cooking devices, outdoor camping equipment and fireworks.
- If young children express curiosity about fire, remind them that lighters and matches are tools for adults only and tell them about the dangers of using them.
Some additional tips:
- Ensure that all smoke detectors are working in your home and have a fire extinguisher available.
- When using fire for cooking, heating, or camping, keep the area clear of combustibles, secure any lighters or matches, and have a plan for putting out the fire.
- If you are a smoker, keep lighters and matches away from young children.