​​Teaching children to respect fire

May 17, 2021

A structure fire in a rural area
Two kids used a stolen lighter to start this abandoned house on fire April 24 in Bemidji. Nobody was injured.

Fire can be fascinating. Fire can be powerful. But fire can also be deadly. That's why we need to respect it – and educate children to do the same. It moves quickly and it's unpredictable, and even if they have no malicious intent, kids tend to overestimate their ability to control it.

For example, State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD) youth firesetting interventio​n specialists, along with Spring Lake Park/Blaine/Mounds View Fire Department's specialists, recently wrapped up a case involving three 13-year-old boys. The boys lit a fire in a small city park in Anoka County on a dry, breezy evening in September. Fortunately, the fire didn't do any damage – but the boys lit it near the edge of the park that borders a wooded strip behind a residential area. The breeze that evening could easily have carried embers to the trees, dried leaves on the ground, or the roofs of houses, giving this story a tragic ending.

Spring brings the potential for more of such stories. In fact, data shows an uptick in youth-set fires every spring. More daylight and warmer temperatures bring people outside. At the same time, parts of Minnesota drift in and out of high fire risk: Windy days with relative humidity below 25 percent provide the perfect conditions for wildland fires. New vegetation can turn into dry tinder all too quickly.

Spring is the perfect time to educate children about fire. Talk to them about how dangerous and powerful it is, and how they must never, ever use it without a trusted adult present. While you're at it, be sure they don't have access to ignition sources, and keep matches and lighters out of their reach. Also, keep careful track of your city or county's burning restrictions. They may change with the weather in the weeks to come. If you're planning a leaf or brush burning or a recreational fire, think it through carefully and prepare accordingly.

Even if kids have no malicious intent, a fire under in the wrong place under the right conditions could easily wreak destruction. It's important to understand that, although curiosity in children is normal, starting fires is not. And it's not a phase either. Research shows without intervention, youth firesetting behavior tends to continue. Children who repeatedly start fires need help.

If you're concerned about the firesetting behavior of a child in your life, the SFMD's Youth Firesetter Helpline can help. You can reach them at 800-500-8897 or 651-201-7220 (although if you feel you or others are in immediate danger, call 911). The helpline is a project of the Minnesota Youth Firesetting​ Prevention and Intervention initiative. This initiative is dedicated to the safety of Minnesota citizens and getting necessary education to youth and families.​