The Fact Is ...
Many youths incorrectly think that they can control the ignition sources (i.e. lighters, matches, fireworks, explosives, etc.) they misuse and the fires they set.
Many parents believe their children "know better" than to play with fire, when in fact fire misuse by youth remains a serious and widespread problem.
Even though most fires set by youth are started out of curiosity or experimentation (versus intentional malice), the damage they cause in terms of both economic and human costs is real and devastating.
Children "playing" with fire is very dangerous behavior. Each year, children "playing" (i.e. intentionally-set fires not included) with fire cause on average 56,300 fires, 110 deaths, and 880 civilian injuries. (NFPA 2011)
These fires cost $286 million in property damage each year in the United States. Not included in these astronomical costs are other expensive indirect costs, such as medical care, fire department response, lost wages or business, etc. (NFPA 2011)
Data extrapolated from fire department records (which include both intentionally-set fires and fireplay) show that every year, approximately 187,000 reported fires are caused by youths. Even more alarming, due to lack of reporting it is likely that this number underestimates the actual number of youth-set fires by 300%. (NFPA 2009 - 2011)
Approximately 40% of the fires that youth set in a home originate in the child's bedroom. Older children and teenagers are more likely to set fires outside or to other structures. (NFPA 2011)
Fire is fast, hot, dark, and can quickly get out of hand. It can double in size every 30 - 60 seconds. This means your family may have less than 3 minutes to escape from your home.
The dangerous, toxic smoke produced from a fire can make breathing difficult, impair thinking, and cause you to lose consciousness. This means that it may be impossible for you and/or other family members to escape from your home.
About 40% of the fires that kill young children less than 5 years old are started by kids "playing" with fire. (NFPA 2005)
Fires that youth set to structures cause on average over $22,600 in damages. (NFPA 2009)
Choosing to misuse fire sets off an unstoppable chain of events with lasting consequences.
Youth who misuse fire can be charged with a crime may be prosecuted as an adult and can have a permanent criminal record. Children under 18 years old account for nearly 50% of all arson arrests in the United States. (U.S. Department of Justice-FBI, 2000 - 2011)
In many states, parents are held legally and financially responsible for their child's fire misuse.
There are many reasons why youth misuse fire. It can be attributed to experimentation, curiosity, boredom, or peer pressure. However, there are times when it is motivated by other things in a child's life. Fire misuse can be a sign that a child is struggling and needs additional support or help.
No matter why a youth misuses fire, it is important to not ignore it and to get help. Trained professionals can assist and help provide additional support.
Without appropriate intervention, many youths will continue to set fires throughout their lifetime placing themselves, family, neighbors, classmates, innocent bystanders, other citizens, first responders, and firefighters at high risk for injury or death.