Local News

Keep Kids' Fascination with Fire From Becoming a Burning Obsession

Posted February 24, 1999

— More than 40 percent of the people arrested for arson are children under age 18. Is your child playing with fire too? The problem is more common that many people think.

Experts say just about every child has a fascination with fire. It is when that fascination turns into an obsession that parents have to do something.

"We constantly say 'don't play with lighters, don't play with matches,'" said Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Carson.

It is a tough lesson for children to understand. Fire safety experts use videos to try and teach children about the dangers of playing with fire.

"We try our very best to instill in the child in school that fire burns, fire kills and fire destroys," explained Carson.

But for some kids, fire goes way beyond the normal childhood fascination. Dr. Leonora K. Petty, a child psychiatrist, says there is almost always an underlying reason why.

"Usually, children who continually start fires and it becomes a problem for them is because of something else going on with them. Many of these children have been abused, probably sexually abused. Many may have psychiatric disorders," said Petty.

Petty says it is important for parents to take notice immediately and to seek help for their children before a tragedy like the one involvingDemetrius Jordanhappens.

"If a child actually sets a fire and it's a pretty big deal the first time, I say that's the time to do something," said Petty.

It is common for children to be curious with fire. Experts say it is a good idea to turn kids' interest into safe outcomes.

You can visit a fire station or create opportunities for learning about fire safety at home.

Every year, children start nearly 100,000 fires. So how do you know if your child is experimenting with fire?

  • Look for evidence of fire play such as burnt matches or paper.
  • Watch for inappropriate interest in firefighters or fire trucks.
  • Pay attention if you notice your child asking or trying to light cigarettes or candles for you.
  • Another warning sign is if you find matches or lighters in you child's pockets or bedroom.

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