FD: Juvenile Fire Setters


A fire is reported every three and a half hours in Texas as a result of children playing with fire, matches or other fire starter tools.

More people die in fires than in hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and all natural disasters combined. Over half of all arson cases involve preteens. Fires set by preteens kill hundreds of people each year and destroy millions of dollars of property. Firefighters, fire setters and other innocent victims die in these fires.

The first step in solving the juvenile fire setter problem is to better understand which children set fires and why they do it. Juvenile fire setters generally fall into four categories.

Types of Fire Setters

  • Curiosity / Experimental
  • Troubled / Crisis
  • Delinquent / Criminal
  • Pathological / Emotionally Disturbed
  • Parents / Caregivers
  • Available Programs

Types of Fire Setters

Curiosity / Experimental Fire Setters

  • Boys and girls ages 2 to 10
  • Lack understanding of the destructive potential of fire
  • Easy access to lighters, matches or other fire starting tools
  • Unsupervised

Troubled / Crisis Fire Setters

  • Mostly boys of all age
  • Have usually set two or more fires
  • Use fire to express emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration or powerlessness concerning stress or other major changes in their life
  • May not understand the consequences of uncontrolled fire
  • >Most likely will continue to set fires until needs are met or identified
  • Known as "cry for help" fire setters

Delinquent / Criminal Fire Setters

  • Usually teens with a history of fire setting, gangs, truancy, drug / alcohol use and abuse and other antisocial behavior

  • Fires are set with intent to destroy or as acts of vandalism and malicious mischief
  • Targets are typically schools, open fields, dumpsters or abandoned buildings
  • Crimes may involve restitution and criminal punishment

Pathological / Emotionally Disturbed Fire Setters

  • Involves a psychiatric diagnosis
  • Fires may be random, ritualized or with specific intent to destroy property
  • Chronic history of school, behavioral and social/emotional problems
  • Boys and girls of all ages
  • Set multiple fires


What can you do?

Parent or Caregiver

You can help lower these occurrences by:

  • Teaching young children that fire is a tool, not a toy
  • Keeping matches and lighters out of reach, in high, locked cabinets
  • Supervising young children at all times
  • Teaching young children to tell an adult when they find matches and lighters
  • Praising children for practicing responsible behavior and showing respect for fire
  • Setting a good example: use matches, lighters and fire carefully and responsibly

Always Remember

  • Fire is dangerous and can be deadly
  • Even small fires grow and spread quickly
  • Never leave the stove, heater or burning candles unattended
  • Install, maintain and test smoke alarms
  • Plan and practice a home fire escape drill with your family
  • Have a designated meeting place outside the home in the event of a fire
  • Keep your home safe from fires

Available Programs

If you suspect your child or someone you know may exhibit signs of fire setting behavior, the McKinney Fire Department offers a free educational program addressing juvenile fire setting. For more information or to schedule an assessment, please contact our Life Safety Division or call 972-547-2893.