Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service

Specialist Advice

Advice for Parents and Guardians – why do children set fires?

Children and young people start to play with fire for various reasons, ranging from natural curiosity to attention seeking.

Without help and guidance, fire setting behaviour can lead to more serious consequences such as personal injury and damage to homes, schools and property.

What are the signs of regular fire setting?

  • Small burn holes in carpets, charred paper in sinks or rubbish bins
  • Matches or lighters hidden in your child’s bedroom
  • An unusual fascination with fire
  • Unknown fires in your home

This behaviour should be recognised and dealt with to make sure that it does not continue in to adulthood.

What should you do if you suspect your child is playing with fire?

Consider your own actions how they may influence the behaviour of the children and young people for whom you are responsible.

Read the leaflet and act on its advice.

If you would like help with this problem Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has set up a Firesetters intervention scheme. Specially trained volunteer advisors offer education and advice for both children and parents or guardians.

If you would like more information about this scheme please contact Firesetters on:


Or in writing to:
1 Seymour Street
Co Antrim
BT27 4SX

For more information about fire safety contact your local Fire Safety Officer. Contact Details can be obtained by calling Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service on 028 9266 4221

Or in writing to:
1 Seymour Street
Co Antrim
BT27 4SX


This information is designed to give guidance to parents/guardians who may be concerned about children playing with or setting fires:

  • Explain to the child/young person that fire is a tool, not a toy, and talk about the different ways adults make use of fire as a tool. Use candles on a birthday cake and coal fires for heating as examples
  • Explain to children/young people that fires can hurt or even kill
  • Make sure that matches and lighters, if kept in the home, are stored out of sight and reach of children/young people. Also use childproof containers for matchboxes and lighters if possible
  • Never leave young children alone in the house, even for short periods of time
  • Check the child/young person’s bedroom and school bag for lighter and/or matches
  • Carry out regular checks for any sign of further fire setting such as burn marks on carpets/bed/furniture, particularly within the child/young person’s room
  • Keep outbuildings, garden sheds and garages locked to prevent access to flammable items
  • Try to keep the home free from items like newspapers and cardboard that could be set alight
  • Where there is a child who may be a firesetter, make sure that the home is fitted with smoke alarms – it is recommended that smoke alarms are fitted in line with current NIFRS home fire safety advice. A smoke alarm will alert to any firesetting activity quickly
  • Test the smoke alarms weekly by pressing the test button
  • Change the battery once a year or when you need to
  • Make an escape plan with your family and practice it
  • If a fire occurs, warn the rest of the family

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