Child burned after setting fire

A fire set at a Front Royal home Monday night by two children left one with minor burns.

Now the children will participate in a voluntary program run by the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services aimed at preventing juveniles from setting more fires.

Emergency responders arrived at 437 Overlook Drive shortly before 7 p.m. Monday for a reported structure fire. Crews on the scene determined that the fire started on the outside of the house and had spread underneath and along the structure.

A 12-year-old girl suffered first-degree burns to her hands, legs and feet. Rescue workers treated her at the scene and then took her to Warren Memorial Hospital for further treatment. Chief Richard Mabie said the girl was released after treatment.

Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico determined that two juveniles engaging in “fire-play” started the blaze. Flames spread across the ground and out of control. The girl suffered burns when she tried to put out the fire. The blaze remained on the ground and did not damage the home.

“They were setting small items on fire in a controlled environment and it was easily spread out of control,” Maiatico said. “We do feel that these particular juveniles have a small history of these types of incidents, but that’s what the participation in the program’s gonna find out.”

Now the children will go through the department’s voluntary Juvenile Firesetter Program. The program helps the department to determine the risk that a juvenile could potentially set more fires, Maiatico said. The department uses a set of questions developed nationally by fire service professionals and licensed mental health professionals to perform the risk assessment, Maiatico said.

The county’s three-step program begins with an initial evaluation to determine the likelihood the child will set fires again. Based on the fire incident and the evaluation, the department develops an educational curriculum specifically for the individual that involves the parent or guardian, Maiatico said. A second session involves more education and informational videos. The department holds a third session and then possibly makes follow-up visits with the juvenile, Maiatico said.

“This program also determines or helps determine why the juvenile was involved in this fire-setting behavior or fire-play behavior,” Maiatico said.

Boredom often compels a child to start a fire but also indicates a low risk of recurrence, Maiatico noted. Locally, most of the fires are started out of boredom, he said. But other reasons also could trigger fire setting.

“There could be an underlying issue with that particular child and this is a way for that child to either act out or seek attention for that underlying problem,” Maiatico said. “So not only does this program identify and provide the educational tools necessary to prevent this from happening, this can also determine is there a risk or mental-health involvement, where we can do a mental-health referral for that juvenile and find that juvenile the appropriate help in which they need.”

The department has had only one documented case in the six years of running the program in which a juvenile had set another fire after receiving the education, Maiatico said. He estimated 35-40 juveniles have gone through the program.

“So this has been a very successful program in our department,” Maiatico said.

The program only takes in those juveniles whose fires spurred a response by emergency workers, Maiatico said.

The department also works through the juvenile court system and a judge can require a child charged with arson to go through the program.

Maiatico noted a national statistic that indicates 85 percent of children who set fires continue to engage in that activity.

“We notice that there is a natural progression on the items in which they set on fire,” Maiatico said. “So today it’s leaves. Tomorrow it’s a mattress outside and six months from now it’s an outbuilding or a structure.”

The department provided additional, national statistics on juvenile fire-setters:

• Children set 50 percent of all fires, approximately 250,000 per year;

• More than 70 percent of juvenile fire-setters are under age 10 and more than 40 percent are under 5;

• Juveniles make up 55 percent of those arrested for arson, almost half of which are children 15 and under, and nearly 7 percent under 10;

• Fires set by juveniles is the leading cause of fatal home accidents and the largest cause of death among children;

• Almost 34 percent of the victims of child-set fires are the children themselves.

Contact the Office of the Fire Marshal at 636-3830 for more information on the program if a child appears to have a potential habit of setting or playing with fires.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com