Did you know:

  • . . . that in Oregon each year, there are hundreds of fires set by children?
  • . . . that fires started by children are the leading cause of fire deaths for small children?
  • . . . that children have typically set 3 fires before their fire play is discovered?

Each year in Oregon, and nation-wide, many children play with fire or intentionally set fires. These fires cause millions of dollars in damage to structures and property, as well as loss of life. In most cases, the devices used to start fires are matches and lighters found in the home.

Myths vs. Facts

Myth: It is normal for children to play with fire.
Fact: While curiosity about fire is common, playing with fire and setting fires is not normal and can be deadly.

Myth: Fire setting is a phase children will outgrow.
Fact: It is not a phase. It must be dealt with, or it will continue.

Myth: If the fire is small, there’s no problem.
Fact: All fires start small. They can quickly spread and get out of control.

Myth: Children who start fires are pyromaniacs.
Fact: Almost every child has some curiosity about fire. But progression to fire setting is a problem and can occasionally be a symptom of a larger problem.

Why do children light fires?

Most children have a natural and normal curiosity about fire. Candles on birthday cakes, campfires, barbeques, and celebrations all involve fire. Television, music videos, and news stories also expose children to fire. Lighters and matches are very attractive to children, especially when they see grown-ups using them. Some lighters are shaped or brightly colored like toys, making them even more attractive.

Some children set fires deliberately. There can be many reasons for this, including peer pressure, anger, boredom, or a cry for help due a significant crisis in the child’s life. For these children, fire setting may be an outlet for their feelings.

Curiosity about fire is normal. Fire setting is not.

What to look for:

  • Burned pieces of paper
  • Scorch marks on carpet or furniture
  • Scorch marks on bedding, under beds, or inside drawers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Burned candles or wax drippings
  • Burns or injuries to fingers
  • A smell of smoke in a room or the house
  • Lighters or matches missing, or that do not belong in the household
  • Excessive curiosity about fire

What you can do to prevent fire play and fire setting:

  • Supervise
    Appropriate and effective supervision is one of the best ways to keep a child from playing with fire. This includes frequent visual contact and monitoring of activities, as well as restricting TV shows and internet access that expose children to fire.
  • Remove Temptation
    Keep all matches and lighters out of reach of children. Remove all unnecessary matches and lighters from the home. And remember: child-resistant lighters are NOT childproof, even for a 3-year-old.
  • Educate children about fire
    Teach children that matches and lighters are tools for grown-ups, not toys for them. Fire is not magic - it is hot and can cause burns. Teach children to tell an adult they know if they find matches or lighters. Older children can be taught the safe and responsible use of matches and lighters, under direct adult supervision. Always praise or reward fire-safe behavior.

Do you know a child who is curious about fire?

Eighty percent of the children who set fires or play with fire will repeat the behavior without intervention.

We can help! The Corvallis Fire Department’s Juvenile Fire Setter Diversion Program was started in 1986 to help educate kids about the dangers of playing with fire. Since then, hundreds of children have successfully completed the program.

Participation includes an initial interview with the child and parent or guardian to determine if fire play has occurred.

Educational information and projects are provided according to age and the child’s development, in order to help the child learn about the dangers of playing with fire, as well as possible consequences. Information for adults is available to help keep sources of fire play out of curious hands.

Finally, a screening interview provides information on additional services or evaluations that the child may need in order to assist the child and parent or guardian in stopping the fire-setting behavior.

If you need assistance with a child who is playing with fire or is curious about fire, call the Fire Department at 541-766-6961.

Last updated: 9/14/2012 5:04:54 PM