Fire officials: half of all arson fires started by kids

May 10, 2012

This week is arson prevention week in Florida and Regan McCarthy reports Tallahassee firefighters are focusing on reducing the number of fires started by children.

Nationwide more than half of arson fires are started by kids. And Tallahassee Fire Chief Cindy Dick says the majority of those fires are started by children under the age of 10. But she says in her experience, they’re usually accidental.

“I don’t believe there’s a great amount of malicious arson intent in those fires. I think they result from a lack of education and fire safety.”

Dick blames things like novelty lighters, which often come in the shape of cars and cell phones, and which Dick says kids mistake for toys. She says one good step is to make sure the lighters don’t end up in kids’ hands. 

“If nothing else, teach your children about fire. Protect them from yourselves and protect you from any impacts of fire. And if you see any new toys show up that you hadn’t seen before take a look at them. Investigate them. It took me a little while to figure this one out, but I’m sure it would have taken my son much less time than it would have taken me.”

And child-started fires aren’t just a problem at home. The Director of the Florida Forest Service, Jim Karles, says kids are behind six-percent of wild fires caused by arson. And this is the peak of wild fire season.

“Our drought index statewide is well over 500. We got a little bit of rain, but the drought indexes show that throughout north Florida you’re looking at 25 inches of rain needed to get us out of this.”

Karles says the best way to reduce the number of arson fires is to increase education. And he says citizens should be on the lookout and report any situation that looks suspicious. And Julius Halas, with the state fire marshal’s office agrees.  He says it’s important to take proactive steps toward stopping arson fires.

“And I think that we all share that the common sense of the purpose is the prevent fires before they get started.”

Halas says its important to work together as agencies to prevent arson fire. But he says it’s also important for Floridians to take a role in prevention.