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
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
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.