More kids committing arson
Awareness program: DFES officer John Landwehr. Picture: Dione Davidson/The West Australian

Child arsonists are being caught at an alarming rate, prompting Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan to call on the Government to do more to educate children on the dangers of fires.

New figures show one child is being referred to a Department of Fire and Emergency Services fire awareness program every four days. Police said that most people caught for lighting fires this summer were children.

Seventeen juveniles have been charged or dealt with by Strike Force Vulcan officers since December. The figure is believed to be among the highest number of children charged or warned during a bushfire season.

It does not include several children spoken to by police over a bushfire that threatened properties in Calista and Parmelia on Friday, burning through more than 12ha.

Police are also investigating whether children lit a fire in Balga on Thursday.

Mr O'Callaghan said children often failed to recognise the devastation fire could cause and it was concerning they were so highly represented in arson offences.

"Government has to do a bit more for education of young people about what the consequences of lighting a fire in the summer actually are," he said.

Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said there were programs to deal with the issue of children lighting fires but it was not up to the Government to "take over the responsibility" of parents to teach their children about the dangers of lighting fires.

DFES has had 56 children referred to its Juvenile and Family Fire Awareness Program so far this financial year.

The total for the year is expected to top the 60 referred to the program in 2012-13.

Boys aged between 10 and 14 accounted for most referrals, which come from WA Police, the Department of Corrective Services' juvenile justice teams, firefighters and parents.

DFES air operations officer John Landwehr, who has been a volunteer with the program for 18 years, said 93 per cent of children who took part did not reoffend.

One-on-one tailored sessions with a career or volunteer firefighter can involve a child being shown graphic images of burns to demonstrate the potential outcomes of their actions.

Mr Landwehr said fire curiosity was natural for many children but they often failed to understand the potential consequences of their actions.

Arson squad Det-Sen. Sgt Craig White said the number of juveniles caught for deliberately lighting fires was increasing and most fires lit by children occurred when they were in groups.

The West Australian

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