Firesetting by a child or young person

Why children and young people set fires, how to spot fire setting, and what to do next.

Why do children and young people set fires?

Children and young people can experiment with fire out of curiosity. Deliberately setting fires or “playing” with fire can also be a form of expression of their emotions.

It is important that they are given guidance, support and education. This helps theym to understand the dangers and wider implications that fire can have and to prevent harm to themselves or others.

What is firesetting behaviour?

Many forms of firesetting behaviour exist. Research shows the majority of children and young people who set fires, do so out of curiosity. It is normal for them to be of an age or capacity where they might not fully understand the consequences.

Deliberate fire setting can be an example of expression of emotions, creating an outlet and a scenario where attention is needed.

All children and young people must be supported to prevent future firesetting.

Signs of firesetting

If you susspect they are developing an unsafe interest in fire, look out for these signs of fire setting, which are:

  • lighters or matches in their room or belongings.

  • unexplained fires in the home

  • unexplained burn marks on carpets or clothing

  • charred paper or melted objects in bin

  • the smell of smoke on their clothes

  • a fascination with fire

What should you do if you suspect a child or young person is setting fires?

If you are concerned a child or young person may be deliberately setting fires, we can help. Our Fire Safety Support and Education (FSSE) is available to anyone under 18 years old who have shown signs or an interest in firesetting.

You can also:

  • talk to the child or young person, explain the dangers of fire

  • keep lighters and matched out of reach or children

  • talk to your family about escape plans, ensure you know what to do if there is a fire

  • Book a Home Fire Safety Visit

  • regularly check for signs of firesetting

  • As children mimic adult's behaviour, ensure cooker spaces are left clear and children are not left alone with candles

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