Prevent Youth Firesetting

Each year in the United States, millions of dollars of property are lost, thousands of children are burned and hundreds of deaths are caused by youth set fires. The FBI Crime Index Reports that Juvenile and Adult Arson cause an annual average of 560,000 fires, 750 deaths, 3,700 injuries, $1.5 billion in property loss.

  • 55% of all arson arrests in the U.S. are children under 18
  • Nearly half of these are age 15 and under
  • 6.8% are under age 10
  • The crime of arson has the highest rate of juvenile involvement

Children and Fire

FACT: Matches, lighters, and other heat sources are the leading causes of fire-related deaths for children under age 5. In fact, toddlers actually cause a large number of home fires by playing with lighters and matches. Children have a natural curiosity about fire and you can’t underestimate their ability to strike matches or start a lighter.

Most experts agree that the best way to understand firesetting behavior is to look at where and why children set fires.

Children start fires for many reasons:

  • Curiosity/Experimentation: Children want to see how things like matches and lighters work
  • Imitating Behavior: Children imitate their parents, other family members and important people in their lives
  • Peer Pressure: Some children are pressured into setting fires by their friends
  • Crisis: Some children have many stressors in their lives and set fires as a way to cope, as a cry for help or out of anger
  • Some children use firesetting as a way to threaten or intimidate others
  • Some children use fire during other illegal activities to cover up their crimes or destroy evidence

Should I be concerned and what can I do about it?

Yes, you should be concerned – and you can do a lot! Children do not understand the dangers of fire. In fact, children playing with matches and lighters start many of the home fires that kill children.

What can you do?
  • When a child is curious about fire or has been playing with fire, calmly and firmly explain to your child that matches and lighters are tools for adults to use carefully. Teach young children to tell an adult if they see matches or lighters.

  • Always store matches and lighters out of children’s reach and sight, preferably in a locked cabinet.

  • Purchase only child-resistant lighters . Remember, no lighter is child-proof.

  • Never use lighters or matches as a source of amusement. Children may imitate what you do.

  • Always supervise young children.

  • Prevent fires by practicing and teaching fire safe behaviors in your home.

Who can help?

Whatever the reason a child starts a fire, there is help through the Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program. Intervention services is designed to reduce the incidence of juvenile involvement in firesetting behavior and arson-related activities. There are three major intervention approaches: primary prevention, early intervention, and core intervention. Lessons include; fire safety, consequences, choices, responsibility, arson laws, and how firesetting affects the community.

Primary intervention efforts are intended to reduce the incidence of first-time unsupervised fireplay and firesetting in populations of otherwise normal youth. This is accomplished by providing children with educational experiences focused on the rules of fire safety and prevention and understanding the consequences of fireplay and firesetting.

Early intervention programs are focused on identifying both children-at-risk for fireplay or firesetting activities and those involved in first-time fireplay and firesetting episodes. The objective is to prevent the recurrence of fireplay and firesetting incidents through the use of evaluation, education, and referral mechanisms.

Core intervention is aimed at eliminating recurrent firesetting behavior and providing treatment and remediation for the contributing factors. Treatment may require mental health intervention or counseling services. All mental health providers have experience treating youth firesetting behaviors.


430 South Main Street
Oberlin, Ohio 44074

Ph: 440-774-3211
Fx: 440-774-7809