November 1, 2007
10-Year-Old With Matches Started a California Wildfire
By MICHAEL PARRISH
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 31 — A 10-year-old boy admitted that he accidentally started one of the largest of last week’s Southern California wildfires while playing with matches, enforcement officials say.
The blaze, the Buckweed fire, started in the early afternoon of Oct. 21, in Agua Dulce, a rural community in the northern part of Los Angeles County. Fanned by high winds and hot, dry weather, it spread quickly, driving 15,000 people from their homes, destroying 21 houses and 22 other buildings, injuring three people and blackening more than 38,000 acres.
. . . “A 10-year-old boy is in a whole other psychic realm,” said Dr. Jeff Victoroff, associate professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry, at the University of Southern California. “At least one study suggests that if you take a population of boys between kindergarten and fourth grade, 60 percent of them have committed unsupervised fireplay, which is to say that fireplay is a common and absolutely normal part of human development.”
I am among that 60%, having at age four set fire to the curtains in my bedroom by lighting a candle. By the grace of something, I failed to burn down the entire apartment and perhaps kill someone. Perhaps you, if you are honest, have stories of near disaster in your youth.
It would be hard to conceive of a punishment that could possibly make this boy feel worse.
If good judgment prevails and if God is in his Heaven, the boy will not be prosecuted, nor will his name be divulged.
I cross by older and wiser, but once smoky and singed fingers.