Juvenile Firesetters

Most experts agree that the best way to understand firesetting behavior is to look at where and why children set fires. They believe that there are 2 basic types of children that set fires.


Curiosity firesetters usually are 2 to 7-year-olds whose fascination with fire leads them to "play" with it to find out how it feels, how it burns, and what it does. They do not understand fire's destructive potential. Although curiosity is a normal part of children's growth and development, parents and other adults who discover that a child is playing with fire should take it very seriously.


Problem firesetters can also be very young, but generally are 5 to 17-years-old. In contrast to the curious firesetter, however, these youngsters light fires because of emotional or mental disturbances ranging from mild to severe. A crisis in the child's life, such as moving to a new area, a divorce, or death could trigger firesetting behavior. Or, a more serious disturbance could be the cause. Chronic behaviors such as a poor relationship with other children, cruelty to animals, and extreme mood changes are a few of the traits that data on juvenile firesetters have revealed.

Parents: Teach Your Child About Fire

  • Fire is a tool we use to heat our homes and cook our food
  • It is not a toy
  • Fire is dangerous - it can kill
  • All fires - even small ones - can spread quickly
  • Even adults must follow special safety rules for fire

Control Your Child's Access to Fire

  • Keep all matches and lighters out of the reach of children - even a two-year old can operate a cigarette lighter.
  • Never allow anyone to use lighters or matches in an unsafe manner in your home.
  • Never leave stoves or candle unattended.
  • Teach children to show you any unattended matches or lighters they find.
  • Set a good example.
  • Install and maintain smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.
  • Plan and practice home fire escape drills.
  • Regularly inspect your home for fire hazards.
  • Always use "safety sense" when making or using fire.
  • Point out to your children the safety rules you and others are following throughout the day.

Teachers, Counselors & Community Leaders: Take Responsibility for Fire Safety

  • Teach fire safety in pre-school through high school programs.
  • Participate in training to learn about juvenile firesetters.
  • Help to raise awareness in your community about juvenile firesetters.
  • Know the resources in your community to help juvenile firesetters - or help develop a juvenile firesetters program.