When we think about house fires, we often think about common causes such as grease fires in the kitchen, lightning strikes, and space heaters that catch fire. However, it may come as a shock to you that children playing with fire is a leading cause of home fires in the United States.

An average of about 7,100 house fires occurred each year between 2007 and 2011 due to children playing with fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These house fires are only about 23 percent of all cases of child firesetting, but account for 98 percent of all deaths, 93 percent of injuries, and 91 percent of all property damage due to these fires.

Each year, house fires started by children account for about 77 deaths, 750 injuries, and $172 million in property damage. Overall, children set about 49,300 fires in the United States each year between 2007 and 2011. Knowing the most common ways children start fires and understanding why is key in preventing many of these fires.

How do children usually start fires?

Children are naturally curious about fire, and enjoy exploring it by lighting bonfires, fire pits, and fireworks; however, most child-set fires do not occur outside. Most (52 percent) indoor fires started by children utilize a lighter; matches spark an additional 18 percent of these fires. Although these only comprise about 70 percent of child firesetting, these two methods of fire starting lead to 82 percent of all “civilian casualties.” Other fires can begin when a child is playing with a candle, the fireplace, a space heater, or the stove.

Boys are much more likely to start fires than girls, with an average proportion of 83 percent of fires started by boys to 17 percent started by girls. Forty-three percent of all indoor fires are set by children age five or under, while tweens (ages 10 to 12) are more likely to start fires outdoors.

Almost 40 percent of all indoor fires set by children occur in the bedroom, followed by eight percent in the kitchen and six percent in family rooms or other common areas. Common materials ignited by these fires include:

  • Mattresses
  • Bedding
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Other paper
  • Trash or rubbish

How can I prevent child firesetting?

Child firesetting is not as uncommon as many believe, making it vital to talk with your children about the dangers of fire. Children need to understand the dangers of fire and respect the damage it can do. Some fire departments even offer programs for different age groups to educate them about fire hazards and how to react if a fire occurs. Other ways to be proactive in preventing your child from setting fires include:

  • Keep matches, lighters, and other fire starters stored in a place that is not easily accessible for children. Always keep fire starters in a fireproof box. If your child has a penchant for lighting fires, consider keeping fire starters under lock and key.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended with a child in the home
  • Teach children how to react if a fire occurs
  • Be a good role model, demonstrating only safe methods of handling fire starting tools and using fire responsibly
  • Do not ignore signs of curiosity about fire in your child
  • Do not assume discipline is enough to prevent your child from playing with fire again

If your child exhibits any kind of fire-related impulse control issue — such as starting fires after previous discipline for doing so — seek professional help immediately. Your child may be trying to communicate something vitally important. Your child’s doctor, a mental health professional trained to work with children, or a school counselor may be a good option if your child will not talk with you.

About Burn Victims’ Resource Center

It is normal for children to want to play with fire. Ensure that your child knows that fires are very dangerous and can cause very painful burns. For more information on other burn hazards, fire safety, and preventing burn injuries, check out our blog today.

If your child sustains a burn injury, give one of our lawyer referral specialists a call at 844-549-8774 for help finding an attorney.