Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed this week as Arson Awareness Week in Michigan to focus public attention on the seriousness of firesetting by young people and the importance of preventing such behavior through collaborative community effort.
This year's theme is Prevent Youth Firesetting.
"Fire in the hands of children can result in devastating consequences," said State Fire Marshal Richard W. Miller. "One of the best ways to help reduce firesetting by young people is to develop intervention and educational strategies through a collaborative effort among fire and emergency service departments, law enforcement, schools, juvenile justice and social services."
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires started by children playing accounted for an average of 56,300 fires with associated losses of 110 civilian deaths, 880 civilian injuries, and $286 million in direct property damage per year between 2005 and 2009.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Program report states that juveniles (individuals under age 18) accounted for roughly 46 percent of arson arrests in 2005-2010. In 2010, 40 percent of arson arrests were juveniles with 47.6 percent of those children under 16 years of age.
"The public often perceives arson by young people as 'just vandalism' while in reality, arson is a crime where juveniles can be prosecuted as adults," said Miller. "Firesetting is an act of violence that easily results in loss of life and property."
Most children set fires out of curiosity and experimentation.
Others who suffer from mental and/or emotional problems might set fires as "acting out" behavior, for thrill-seeking or willful intent to cause destruction.
Fires set inside homes are more likely caused by younger children, whereas older children tend to set fires outdoors.
According to data, a higher percentage of fires are set by males than females. Lighters are the heat source for half of these fires set by children.
Tips to help prevent children from setting fires:
- Always provide adult supervision when using fire around children.
- Never leave matches or lighters within reach of children.
- Keep smoking materials locked up in high cabinets.
- Use child-resistant lighters and keep in mind they are not child-proof.
- Teach young children to tell an adult if they find matches or lighters.
- Teach children the nature of fire. It is fast, hot, dark, and deadly.
What you can do to help keep your family and home safe:
- Install and maintain working smoke alarms and residential sprinklers in your home.
- Plan and practice home fire-escape drills for your family that includes two ways out from every room.
- Inspect your home for fire hazards on a regular basis.
- Set up neighborhood watch programs to educate people about recognizing and reporting unusual activities.
- Set up internal and external security.
- Familiarize children with the sound of the smoke alarm.
Some warning signs of child fire-setting.
- Evidence of fire play, such as burnt matches or clothing, paper, toys, etc. or if you smell smoke in hair or clothes.
- Inappropriate interest in firefighters and/or fire trucks, such as frequent, improper calls to the fire department or 911.
- Asks or tries to light cigarettes or candles for parents or other adults.
- Finding matches or lighters in their rooms or pockets.
Most child fire-setting can be prevented. Here are some ways you can help.
- Teach very young children that fires is a tool we use to cook food or heat the home. It is not magic. It is dangerous and only for adults to use carefully.
- Keep all matches and lighters out of the reach of children. Even a two-year old can easily work a cigarette lighter.
- Have all children bring matches to you and reward them or praise them when they do.
- If an older child is curious about matches, show him/her the proper and safe way to use them. Explain why it is important to use matches only when needed and with an adult present.
The Michigan Arson Prevention Committee (MAPC) is Michigan's front line task force against arson. The Arson Control subcommittee of the MAPC provides awards of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest and/or conviction of an arsonist.
Since the program's inception in 1975, it has paid out more than $686,000 in awards and helped put 1,135 arsonists behind bars.
To report arson by phone, call toll-free 1-800-44-ARSON (1-800-442-7766).