Firefighters work to douse young firebugs

Fire officials will investigate the cause of every wildfire in an effort to squash firebugs in their tracks.

East Fork Fire Investigator Terry Taylor said two recent fires investigators initially thought were caused by lightning ended up being set by someone.

Taylor estimated 85-90 percent of the fires where someone is caught are set by children.

"The big thing is to keep an eye on your child and other people's children when they are out in a group in the neighborhood," he said.

In one recent case, three teens were caught lighting fireworks at a construction site in the east Valley. In another, three teens were caught setting a mattress on fire while it was leaning against a house. Those teens were connected to two fires in the Gardnerville Ranchos greenbelt.

Taylor said that for arson to be proved as a crime, the law says the person has to be both willful and malicious.

In most cases with children, willfulness is easy to prove, maliciousness less so.

For those children whose actions are deemed willful, a Juvenile Fire Intervention Program has been established with Douglas County's Juvenile Probation Office, the East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts and the Fire Prevention Association of Nevada.

Nevada is the first state in the union to provide standardized training for adults dealing with juvenile firebugs.

Firefighters, law enforcement officers or parents may refer children to the program.

"It doesn't require a kid to get in trouble with the cops," Taylor said. "A parent can call the fire department and an intervention can be arranged."

Taylor said it will pay for residents to be extra watchful this fire season.

"There is a large quantity of fuels out there," he said. "I've seen knee-high cheat grass that come August, when we have 90-degree temperatures, will catch fire from a cigarette."

Children who set brush fires may be prosecuted for third-degree arson and parents can be called on to pay restitution for the cost of fighting the fire.

"The cost of putting out a fire can be horrendous," he said. "An air tanker costs $6,000 a drop and it doesn't take many drops for that to add up. Parents are financially liable for actions of their unsupervised children."

Interventions are being conducted through the district's Prevention Bureau. For more information, contact Toni Braga at 783-6415.


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