Report: NFPA's "Children Playing With Fire"
Author: Ben Evarts
Issued: November 2011
Children who play with fire are the subject of this report, which addresses the size of the problem (overall and by property class), data from other countries, what heat sources are most often used, what items are ignited, and ages and other characteristics of victims.
Between 2005 and 2009, an average of 56,300 child-playing fires were reported to U.S. municipal fire departments per year. These fires caused annual averages of 110 civilian deaths, 880 civilian injuries, and $286 million in property damage. Structure fires accounted for 22% of fires, but 98% of civilian deaths, and 93% of property damage. Outside or unclassified fires accounted for three-quarters (76%) of the fires, and vehicle fires for 2%.
Two-thirds (66%) of child-playing structure fires occurred in residential properties, with 62% in homes. Twelve percent began in outside or special properties (these include tunnels, bridges, vacant lots, etc.), and 8% began in educational properties.
Most deaths, injuries, and damage from child playing fires occur in home structure fires. An average of 7,670 home structure fires per year caused by child-playing were reported between 2005 and 2009, causing annual averages of 100 civilian deaths, 750 civilian injuries, and $192 million in property damage. They are more common during the month of July, and peak between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Half of home playing structure fires had a lighter as their heat source, and matches were the heat source in 19% of fires. Fires started by lighters or matches caused 92% of civilian deaths.
Forty percent of these fires began in the bedroom, 8% in the kitchen and 6% in a common room, living room, family room or den. A mattress or bedding was the item first ignited in 24% of these fires, 10% began with magazines, newspapers, or writing paper and 9% began with rubbish, trash, or waste.
The majority of child-playing structure fires in homes (83%) were started by males (when age was coded as a human factor contributing to ignition). Forty-four percent of the fires were started by a child between the ages of 4 and 6. Older children were more likely to start fires outside as two of five outside or unclassified fires were started by a child between the ages of 10 and 12.
Outside or unclassified child-playing fires (excluding trash or rubbish fires) peak during the afternoon hours, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Nearly one-quarter of these fires were started during the month of July, mostly around the July 4th holiday. Fireworks were the heat source in one-third (33%) of all non-trash outside or unclassified fires caused by child playing, lighters were the heat source in 25%, and matches were the heat source in 21%.
Males were even more likely to be responsible for these fires than in home playing structure fires, as 93% of childplaying outside or unclassified (trash or nontrash combined) fires were started by males (when age was coded as a human factor contributing to ignition).