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Youthful Fire Setters Program

The Modesto Fire Department offers families help in dealing with child fire setters through the Youthful Fire Setter Prevention Program. The mission of the program is to change the fire setting behavior in children and young adults.

Here's how the program works

A representative from the Modesto Fire Department contacts the parents or guardians by telephone and schedules an interview to determine the severity of the fire setting problem. The representative then meets with the youth to share fire safety information and educate on the consequences of fire setting. A final meeting is set between the representative, parents/guardians, and youth to provide additional fire prevention education. The representative follows up with a telephone call two to three weeks following the final interview. A referral may be made to a family counseling agency as needed.

For more information, email Youthful Firesetters Program at

  • Lighters account for 44% of all youth-started fires and matches account for 31%.
  • In 2002, children playing with fire started an estimated 13,900 structure fires, causing an estimated 210 civilian deaths, 1250 injuries and $339 million in direct property damage.
  • Half of all arson arrests are juveniles.

Why Do Juveniles Start Fires?

All children are curious about fire. This curiosity is normal and healthy. However, children who become fire setters usually have underlying problems which need to be addressed. Typically, they will not stop on their own without intervention. Whatever the motivation for the fire setter, tragedies can and do occur.

What Are The Signs?

Curious Fire Setter
The “curious fire setter” is interested in matches or lighters, has a fascination with fire, is very curious about the environment, is determined to learn about it and does not understand the consequences of fire.

The fires they set are usually started with matches or lighters using ordinary and available materials like paper, cloth or carpeting. They are often in “hidden” locations like a closet or under beds.

Crying for Help Fire Setter
This fire setter sets numerous fires and often continues to set fires despite punishment. The child usually has trouble in school, is hyperactive, impulsive or destructive, may lie or steal and may have attention deficit disorder.

Any child can be a potential fire setter. Curiosity about fire is part of a child’s growing process, especially between the ages of 3 and 9. The majority of fires set by children are set out of curiosity or experimentation. Fire setting behavior in some children is a way of expressing feelings of frustration, unhappiness and need. They may be angry over changes in the home or at school, and will use fire to get the attention they need.

What Can You Do?

If you discover evidence of match play or notice an unusual attraction to flame, don’t try to frighten or scare your child. Don’t punish your child for his or her natural curiosity. Instead, talk to your child in a calm, assured manner, explaining your worry for their safety. Teach your child about fire as a tool not a toy. Control your child’s access to fire and most of all, set a good example.

Fire Safety Check List

You can be prepared in the event of a fire emergency by following these guidelines:

  • Install and maintain smoke detectors.
  • Develop and practice a home escape plan, and select a place outside for everyone to meet after leaving the house.
  • Plan two exists from every room in your home.
  • Crawl low under smoke.
  • If your clothes are on fire, don’t panic –STOP, DROP, and ROLL.
  • Do not re-enter a burning building.
  • Call the fire department from a neighbor’s house.

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