Juvenile Arson

Fires reported by U.S. Fire Departments show that children playing with fire started 41,900 fires, causing an estimated 165 civilian deaths, 1,900 civilian injuries and $272 million in direct property damage.1 In Round Rock, the Fire Department has tracked a significant decline in the instances of fires in the community attributed to children playing with matches since the inception of the Rock Solid Safety Team, an education program for area schools.

The crime of arson has the highest rate of juvenile involvement. For the eighth straight year, juvenile firesetters accounted for at least half of those arrested for arson. According to the FBI, nearly one-third of those arrested were children under the age of 15, and 5 percent were under the age of 10.2

Roughly three out of every four children experiment with fire, and at least four-fifths of associated deaths and injuries involve matches or lighters. Children also start fires by playing with candles, stoves, fireworks, and cigarettes.3

Just over half of children experimenting with fire in homes start in a bedroom. Three out of five involve children igniting bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture or clothing.1

A major contributor to youth set fires is a child having access to lighters. In 1998, the most recent year for which national fire loss data are available, an estimated 2,400 residential structure fires occurred that were caused by children younger than age 5 playing with cigarette lighters. Children younger than age 5 playing with multi-purpose lighters caused an estimated 800 residential fires that resulted in about 20 deaths, 50 injuries, and $15.6 million in property loss in 1998.4

According to studies of firesetting behavior, children who start fires may be children in crisis, with the fires acting as cries for help from stressful life experiences or abuse.1

A study by the National Fire Protection Association indicates a substantial link between arson and illegal drug activity, on the order of one-fifth to one-fourth (20-25 percent) of reported arson cases in affected cities.1

The median age of children who start reported fires by experimentation is 5 years old, compared to a median age of 3 years old for fatal victims and a median age in the early 20s for non-fatal injuries.1

The median age of children who started fires by experimentation was 5 years old.1

Six to eight percent of all those arrested for arson are under age 10, a higher percentage than any other crime.1

Most children who experiment with fires start them with lighters or matches.1

The majority of child experimentation fires are started in bedrooms.1

Only a small percentage of school fire incidents are reported to fire departments each year. Incomplete fire reporting gives an inaccurate picture of the school fire problem.5

Sources:
1. National Fire Protection Association, Children Playing with Fire – Nov 2003
2. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Report
3. U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Data Center
4. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Fires Caused by Children Playing with Lighters – Sep 2000
5. Office of the Oregon State Fire Marshal, School Fires: The Need to Report, Sep 2000