FAYETTEVILLE — Parents teach their children not to play with matches and that fire is not a game. But, more and more kids are starting fires on purpose.
About 50 percent of those arrested for arson nationwide are under the age of 18. AsNational Arson Awareness Weekbegins, fire prevention specialists are trying to stress how big of a problem setting fires really is.
Children are setting fires on purpose, and sometimes the results are deadly. A teenage girl is awaiting trial on charges she set a home on fire. A young boy died.
"Juveniles, now, are a real big part of serious crime, and arsons are no different than that," said District Attorney Ed Grannis.
In Cumberland County alone, the number of arsons and the number of children arrested for setting fires has gone up.
Two years ago, 30 juveniles were arrested. In 1998, 33 were arrested. Already this year, a record pace of 16 have been charged. Statewide in 1997, nearly half of the arson arrests were under the age of 17.
"I think now we are having more people report fires. We've had numerous cases where kids actually report the fire not realizing they would be found out as the one who caused it," said Lt. Bruce Morrison, task force member.
Fire prevention specialists say education is key not just in the classroom but at home. While it is normal for children to be curious about fire, parents must teach their kids that fire can ruin lives.
"If you are convicted of an arson offense in Cumberland County, you are going to probably go to prison, and we don't care what your age is. You will go to some sort of lock-up facility," explained State Fire Marshal Jim Long.
The state Arson Awareness Council offers rewards up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of arsonists.
If you have information about a recent fire, you are urged to call the council at1-800-334-3000.