Injury Research and Policy Children Playing with Fire Research :: Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio

Children Playing With Fire

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.  

Children and Fireplay Facts

  • Children playing with fire set more than 20,000 fires every year. That is an average of almost 400 fires each week.
  • Fires started by children playing cause an average of 150 deaths and nearly 1,000 injuries every year.
  • Children usually play with fire in a hidden place – such as a bedroom or closet. In these places, clothing, mattresses, and bedding can easily catch fire.

Who is at Risk?

  • More than half of fires set by children are started by preschoolers and kindergartners.
  • Boys are more likely to start fires than girls.
  • The majority of the victims are younger than 6 years, though parents and caretakers are often among the victims as well.
  • Most fires started by children occur when they are left at home alone or unsupervised.

Prevention Tips

  • 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.
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