Know the Warning Signs of Youth Fire Setting Behavior

​​If you know a child who may have a fire setting problem, please contact the Salem Fire Department to set up an appointment for evaluation and education.

​The precautions

  • Teach young children that fire is a tool we use for cooking or to heat our homes.
  • Keep all matches and lighters out of reach of very young children.
  • Always be careful with matches and fire.
  • Keep your home safe and set the example for your children. They can learn fire safety by helping you.

The problem

“Children playing with matches,” “juvenile fire setting,” and “fire starters” describe a problem that has been getting more and more attention. The United States Fire Administration reports that children set over 50 percent of all fires. In some areas, it is as high as 70 percent. Why do so many children light fires? More importantly, what can we do to stop them? Most experts agree the best way to understand a child’s fire setting behavior is by looking at the context and motivation for the behavior. There are three types of fire setters, and for each type, a different strategy is used to stop the behavior.

The risk levels

Type 1 – Little Risk

  • Usually 3–7 years old
  • Mostly boys
  • Possibly hyperactive
  • Usually alone, in a closet, or under a bed
  • Fire is of hidden origin and where ordinary combustibles are lit with either matches or a lighter
  • Usually panics when the fire gets out of control

Type 2 – Definite Risk

  • Usually 7–12 years old
  • Mostly boys
  • Sudden change in life or recent stress / trauma
  • Could be alone
  • Child is using fire as a “cry for help” to show an inability to cope with sudden change

Type 3 – Extreme Risk

  • Usually 10–14 years old
  • Almost always boys
  • History of school and social problems
  • Almost always alone
  • Other aggressive and problem behaviors
  • Fires are random or ritualized usually in or around the home
  • There is no clear-cut motivation for the fire setting
Teenagers starting fire

Contact us

Salem Fire Department
8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
370 Trade ST SE
Salem OR 97301
Mailing address:
370 Trade ST SE
Salem OR 97301
503-588-6111 ext.1Option 1 for Fire non-emergency number. For emergencies, dial 9-1-1.503-588-6245Business/Administration Office
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