Playing with fire

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In 2002, the National Fire Protection Association estimated more than 13,500 child-playing structure fires were reported in the U.S., with associated losses of 210 civilian deaths, 1,250 civilian injuries, and $339 million in direct damage.

I think we can all remember as children being told not to play with fire. This saying has new meaning with the overwhelming popularity of "toy like" cigarette lighters to children. To a child's eye they're pretty irresistible. But these eye-catching novelty lighters are full of liquid butane and can cause disaster in the hands of little ones.

The lighters come in all shapes and sizes and their most common characteristic is they do not look anything like lighters. Many of these lighters look like animals, miniature cars, mobile phones, and cameras. One is nearly identical to the popular rubber ducky bath toy. It even quacks! Ironically, there are even lighters that mimic a red fire truck, a fire extinguisher, and a Dalmatian with a fire helmet.

Each year toy like/novelty lighters are responsible for numerous injuries and deaths across our nation. In Russellville, Arkansas, brothers, 2-years and 15-months of age, died after setting fire to their apartment with a motorcycle-shaped lighter. A 6-year-old boy in North Carolina sustained second-degree burns after playing with a lighter that looked like a toy cell phone.

In Maryland, playground equipment was set on fire by three 5-year-old girls using a gun shaped lighter. In Oregon, one child died and another was permanently brain damaged after a 6-year-old, playing with a lighter that looked like a dolphin, started a fire.

Even parents are unable to tell the difference between the lighters and toys at times. In Gladwin, Michigan, a mother wanted to give her 4-year-old daughter a treat for cleaning her room. She accidentally bought her a novelty lighter, thinking it was a toy dog.

It is critical to focus public attention on the dangers of these toy-like devices. For this reason, the theme for National Arson Awareness Week (May 4-10, 2008) is Toy-like Lighters - Playing with Fire. If you have any of these lighters lying around, please either dispose of them or secure them away from access to children.

Also, spread the word about the hazards of these incendiary devices. For more information on novelty and toy like lighters, visit the U.S. Fire Administration's Web site at www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/focus/ .

Don't let tragedy "ignite" a concern for protecting our children. Start now!