Children often link fire with celebration and fun such as blowing out candles on a birthday cake, toasting marshmallows over bonfires, or watching fireworks displays. Many children are naturally curious about fire and find it exciting to watch a flame appear from a lighter or a match. However, young children are not able to understand the dangers of fire. Every year, children playing with fire cause hundreds of deaths and injuries. Therefore, it is important to teach children that fire is very dangerous, and that matches and lighters are not toys.
Most deaths, injuries, and damage from child playing fires occur in home structure fires. An average of 7,100 home structure fires per year caused by play were reported between 2007 and 2011, causing annual averages of 77 civilian deaths, 750 civilian injuries, and $172 million in property damage. They are more common during the month of July, and peak between the hours of 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Half of home playing structure fires 52% had a lighter as their heat source, and matches were the heat source in 18% of fires. Fires started by lighters or matches caused 82% of civilian deaths.
Of these fires, 39% began in the bedroom, 8% in the kitchen and 6% in a living room, family room or den. A mattress or bedding was the item first ignited in 23% of these fires, while 10% began with magazines, newspapers, or writing paper and 9% began with rubbish, trash, or waste.
Talk to children about the dangers of fire. Never let a child use a match or lighter, even with an adult present.
Teach children to tell an adult if they find matches or lighters.
Store matches and lighters out of a child’s reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Use only lighters that are child-resistant. However, keep in mind that this does not mean the lighter is “childproof.”
Do not use a lighter that resembles a toy, and never use fire to amuse children.
Do not leave children unsupervised.
Develop a fire escape plan and practice it regularly.
Install smoke alarms on every level of the house, outside all sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
If a child is intentionally setting fires, get help. Contact your local fire department or school counselor for assistance.
- President B. Logan Barclay