Many children are fascinated with fire and flames, and some even start fires themselves. For example, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, alone, an average of just over one structure fire per month was started by a child, and about 25% of fires each year are set by children in the county. And in a concerning trend, anecdotal evidence suggests that younger and younger children are lighting the matches. Regardless of the age or intent of the child, starting a fire is a matter for serious concern, given its potential to damage or destroy property and cause injury or loss of life. There can be serious legal implications if the act meets the definition of arson, which is defined as a property crime in Pennsylvania. And if a child starts a fire more than once, it could be a sign of underlying psychological issues.
Juveniles Who Start Fires—Children Under Twelve are Treated Differently
Law enforcement officials report a juvenile crime, including arson, in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System. However, not all fires started by juveniles make it into the system because they are not intentional, criminal acts.While teenagers may start fires for excitement or revenge, younger children tend to start fires by accident; for example, a five-year-old flicks a lighter just to see what will happen. In the latter case, it may not meet the legal definition of a criminal offense. As a result, there is both an underreporting of fires started by juveniles and a possible lack of preventative follow-up with the younger children who started fires.
There are also privacy laws and nondisclosure rules when talking about young children starting fires. In addition, the commonwealth cannot mandate an intervention program for children younger than twelve or so.
What to Do If Your Child Starts a Fire
Regardless of how young they are, if your minor child starts a fire, a serious, thoughtful response is imperative. A starting point for gathering information includes reviewing the Parents' Legal Responsibility When Your Child Sets a Fire booklet and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program brochure, both from the Pennsylvania Office and the State Fire Commissioner. And it is crucial to secure expert legal advice if there is any chance of criminal charges in the Pennsylvania juvenile system.
Your Best Strategy: Contact an Expert Juvenile Defense Attorney
Starting a fire can have serious, even tragic results, even if the individual who started the fire is a juvenile. The legal implications may be enormous. If your minor child started a fire that caused significant damage or injury, contact attorney Joseph Lento—he has the knowledge and experience to guide you and your family and protect your child's future. Call the Lento Law Firm now at 888.535.3686 or tell us about your case online.