Arson is not a victimless crime. Children and adults alike are affected by the results of arson. Loss of property, belongings, injury and death are the consequences of Arson. An Arsonist does not wake up one morning and make a decision to set fires but is usually a product of time. It starts with activities during their youth.
Youth fire activity is related to experimentation and curiosity, referred to as fireplay. Most children, especially boys form a natural curiosity for fire. This interest can be expressed as curious questions related to fire, playing with fire related toys like fire trucks, and eagerly participating in family activities relating to fire such as assisting with lighting of the bar-b-que, fireplace or bonfire. When this fascination extends to unsupervised activities inside and outside the home a potential for disaster exists.
Young boys between 3 and 10 are the typical youth firesetters. Their motivation may be boredom, lack of supervision, access to matches and lighters as well as a curiosity about fire. Fires set by these children are usually located in or near the family home. There is a potential for these fires to get out of control due to a lack of understanding about fire. The result can be death, injury and most definitely damage to property. If the child can extinguish the fire before it gets out of control they will try to hide the evidence as much as possible and will feel remorse for their actions. A child’s behavior with respect to fire must be recognized to prevent their curiosity from developing into a potential problem. Young firesetters will respond to intervention whether through adult supervision and guidance or with the assistance of professionals through your local fire service.
A potential exists where these curious youths do not receive corrective guidance and develop into problem firesetters. These firesetters are no longer motivated by curiosity but by strong emotions. The fire excites them in some matter. Problem firesetters are a little older, between the ages of 7 and 18 years. Firesetters come from a mix of socio-economic backgrounds; have average intelligence, learning difficulties or exhibit poor academic and behavioral problems. Fire becomes like a friend as they tend to be more introverted.
Many feelings and emotions are characterized by problem firesetters such as anger, peer pressure, rejection and stress. Their reasons for starting fires is less due to curiosity and more for revenge, acting out, psychological problems, a response to a traumatic event in their life (divorce or death). Fire setting becomes an outlet for their feelings.
This group of children set fires deliberately and repeatedly. They don’t show remorse for their actions. If undetected and not dealt with the behavior becomes positively reinforced increasing the likelihood of repeated fire setting. As time progresses the fires they set will become larger. From papers in the bush, to garbage bins to garages to…..
Early detection and recognition of problem firesetters is critical. Referral for counseling is necessary. Their behavior pattern must be corrected. It is essential that the underlying reason for the behavior must be identified and dealt with.