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NCFS: Recent fires caused by kids with matches

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Fire Service was been called to two separate arson incidents involving 12 juveniles in the past week.

"The problem is unsupervised juveniles playing with matches and lighters," said NCFS Fire Safety Educator Lt. Cydnie Taylor. "They are bored and unsupervised and uneducated. Children don't understand they cannot control fire and don't understand the dangers and consequences financially, physically and legally."

Taylor said the first incident occurred last week when about an acre of woodlands in the eastern portion of the county was set on fire by youngsters ranging in age from 2 to 8.

"They were setting clothing, toys and straw on fire. They had been setting fires for two days before the woods were set on fire and the Fire Department was notified," she said.

The second incident occurred on June 28, when kids ages 13 to 16 burned a half acre of woodlands in a subdivision on the western side of the county. The fire was located between five residences, Taylor said.

"They were playing with matches, setting straw on fire. They had done it several times and then it got bigger than they could extinguish," she said.

"We've probably used 1,000 gallons of water to extinguish these fires, and in one case, Georgia Forestry had to respond and cut a break for us," Taylor said.

Taylor said the NCFS is eager to educate parents and youngsters on the dangers of playing with "fire tools" -- matches, lighters, candles, etc.

"Parents need to put these things up and not allow children to play with them," she warned.

Taylor pointed out that arson in the state of Georgia is a felony, whether the fire was deliberately set or a result of playing with fire.

"Our objective is education, but we don't have a problem pressing charges," she said, adding that in the case of the 12 juveniles she's dealt with in the past week, it was decided charges will not be filed.

"In these two cases, education was deemed a necessity. All the juveniles involved, as well as their parents, will be required to attend juvenile fire-setting remedial education through the Newton County Fire Service," she said.

She said this course of action is typical if there was no history of arson or other criminal behavior. Also, she said if it is determined there are problems beyond the scope of the fire-setting education, some juveniles are referred to the Juvenile Court or to a mental health counselor.

"If a child is causing safety issues for residents or family members, or property has been damaged or someone has been injured, we'll go to more extreme measures," she said.

Taylor urged residents who may observe children playing with fire to contact 911 immediately.

"Go ahead and call if you see children playing in this manner and make sure you can identify the children," she said.

Also, she invited anyone who has a child that appears to be curious about fire to call her at 678-625-5025 and she will offer whatever assistance she can.

"People out there need to know that Newton County is taking action," she said. "For every juvenile fire-setter, there will be a consequence to protect other citizens and family members."