The Big Dangerous, Boys Playing With Fire

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The first sign that there was trouble in the neighborhood was when we heard the fire trucks come screaming around the corner. Since we live on wooded acres surrounding Lake Allatoona north of Atlanta, we’re often on “fire-watch” during dry season. One spectacular summer night a few years ago the neighbors watched trees exploded like firecrackers after lightning struck one of the pine trees. That time the firemen were helpless to stop the ravaging fire as they bulldozed a fire break to keep it from consuming our homes.

This time, however, it wasn’t natural causes that started the fire licking at the pines.

This time, our teens invited some friends over to visit two of their favorite hangouts;  the lake and woods. I saw several carloads of boys arrive in our cul de sac and recommended that my hubby do a recon to check on the boys. He did and everything was quiet. But, you know how boys are. Some sticks, a few matches and some handy gasoline and they had a bonzer bonfire going. Before we could say, “Put it Out,” the neighbors had called 911. We met the several truckloads of firemen and police as they tromped through the woods towards our group. Talk about a guilty parenting moment. We knew they were in the woods, we knew there was a group of boys, but we didn’t know about the matches and gasoline.

Within minutes the fire was safely extinguished. The group of boys got a tongue lashing from the firemen, while the cops watched with my hubby at a safe distance. “We’ve done EXACTLY the same thing when we were their ages,” officer Friendly said, slapping my man on his shoulder before heading back to his cruiser to fill out paperwork.

The next day, however, a somber and rather frightening Fire Marshal sat two boys down for the real low-down on playing with fire. Besides the threat of a $500 fine for having an illegal campfire on Army Corps of Engineers property and the fire safety classes that might be required, there were the horror stories of burnt houses and charred landscapes.

I’ve always wondered what the fascination is between boys and fire. They can’t pass a fireworks store without pleading for us to stop. Not ever. We’ve been to Alabama more times than I want to admit to purchase things that fizz and go boom. Recent research studies do show that boys are clearly more attracted to fire starting than girls. According to K. R. Fineman, in Firesetting in Childhood and Adolescence, “A review of previous descriptive studies found that males held responsibility for 82 percent of the arsons. Other finding suggested a ratio of nine boys to every girl involved in setting fires.”

The FBI tracks the stats of arson cases involving juveniles and has found that more than 300 deaths and 2,000 injuries occur from youth-set fires, with more than 400,000 incidents reported every year.

So, how are we teaching our kids about fire? First, we keep them up with the laws and warn them about dry times of year. Second, we let them know when and where fires are legal and we remind them of fire safety, which includes adult supervision.

This year our neighbors built an awesome fire pit. Most weekend nights their backyard is filled with the smoky smell of a fast-burning fire and groups of teenagers. They do have three teenage girls, so it’s hard to determine if our boys are going over there more for the fire or the girls. We thanked our neighbor for providing a safe, chaperoned place for our boys to get their fascination with fire out of their system.

And we brought them a big bag of marshmallows.

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