Program Tracks Youth Fire Setting
HELENA — Initial numbers from a youth fire setting program show that children under the age of 18 have set 29 fires in the last nine months, injuring nine people and killing two.
The statistics are from the Montana Youth Fire Setting Intervention Rescources and Educational Sources (MYFIRES) program. MYFIRES is coordinated through the state fire marshal’s office and funded by a grant from the National Association of State Fire Marshals and a fire prevention education grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
In March 2003, seven communities — Bozeman, Frenchtown, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City and Missoula — took part in a youth fire setting workshop. Since then, those communities have reported youth fire setting incidents on a website.
Since March 2003 the seven participating communities have reported:
- Twenty nine incidents of youth fire setting
- Two deaths, nine injuries and 22 displaced people as a result of the reported incidents.
- Property loss of $181,750 directly linked to these fires.
- Ignition sources are lighters 65 percent of the time and matches 24 percent of the time.
- Nearly 50 percent of all incidents occurred inside the youths’ homes.
- Children aged 10 to 12 accounted for 27.8 percent of youth fires set.
Sheryl Burright-Sebens, Education and Information Programs Manager for the Division of Criminal Investigation said the numbers only reflect incidents reported by the participating communities and those communities make up about one-fourth of the state’s population.
“As alarming as these statistics may be, they are a valuable starting point in the effort to address youth fire setting,” said Mike Batista, administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation. “There is always a reason a child sets fires. It may be a symptom of a need for better education and supervision, or it may be attention-getting behavior that is a symptom of something more significant.”
“The goal of the MYFIRES program is to provide local fire departments with a consistent assessment process for youth fire setters and their families,” said Burright-Sebens “In turn, we hope to determine whether fire-setting problems may be solved through education or mental health intervention.”
The fire marshal’s office recently received a $3,000 grant from NASFM to provide training for mental health workers. A FEMA grant proposal was submitted in September 2003 and would underwrite mental health intervention service for young fire setters. The grant would also fund educational resources for fire departments taking part in MYFIRES and would expand the program to six more communities in Montana.
“Youth fire setting is a serious issue that we will hear more and more about until it is addressed with a viable program like MYFIRES,” said Allen Lorenz, acting state fire marshal. “I support MYFIRES and hope other communities will take part in the program.”