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Juvenile fire setting and flammable liquids

January 31, 2011

There are a number of reasons that kids play with fire.  At a young age it can be from curiosity.  As kids get older it can be a function of the group mentality (where the entire group together acts with a cumulative IQ of less than any one of those kids would have acted at home).  There can also be emotional, family, school and physical factors that can underlie juvenile fire setting activity.  Families that catch such activity early and act quickly can avoid injuries and fires.

One concern we have is when kids start playing with flammable liquids.  That takes playing with fire (dangerous enough in itself) and adds some chemistry that few people adequately grasp.  The safety concerns there are huge.

Combustion is a chemical reaction where oxygen molecules break the O2 bond and combine with some other substance, releasing energy in the process.  Most of us picture a campfire or wood stove when we think of fire and solid fuel (fire wood) is what is burned there.  But solids don’t actually burn.  Solid fuels must go through a thermal chemical reaction called pyrolysis to create the gases that will actually combine with oxygen and create combustion.  Liquids don’t actually burn either.  Flammable liquids must undergo vaporization to create the gases that will combine with oxygen to produce combustion.  Most flammable liquids are evolving flammable gases at room temperature (that’s why they’re useful as fuels).  The hazard is not the liquid.  The real hazard lies in where the liquid is, how it is producing vapors and where those vapors are accumulating.

Kids don’t understand this.  First of all, most kids believe they can control the fire they set.  Secondly they look at the liquid (usually gasoline) and think that is where the hazard is.  They’re cautious about the liquid pool and think that level of safety will keep them from getting hurt.  They don’t understand that the gasoline odor they smell represents the vapors that are filling the room they’re standing in.  When the match gets lit, they’re standing in the vapor cloud and things go horribly wrong.  Another hazard is the small amount of fuel that often gets splashed on their clothes.  They focus on the liquid pool they’ve poured and don’t realize their own clothes are now producing vapors for ignition.  Sometimes, while pouring the liquid, they’re near an ignition source and don’t even know it (gas hot water heater pilot).  Then the fire ignites long before they expected it to.

Gasoline, lighter fluid and any other flammable liquids present safety concerns that few kids understand (and a surprising number of adults too).  Keep flammable liquids somewhere secure and where you can account for them.  Warn your kids about the hazards of playing with flammable liquids.  Playing with flammable liquids adds another degree of disaster to an already dangerous activity of playing with fire.

For more info check out the following:


From → Fire Prevention

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