Vancouver 7-Eleven fire started by 4-year-old with lighter

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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A 4-year-old boy who found a lighter then wandered off when his mom wasn’t watching started the fire that gutted a 7-Eleven in the uptown Vancouver area June 14, according to investigators.

Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said the boy’s mother was talking to the store clerk when the boy found a long-neck lighter in the store, walked off and then lit some items in the store aisles on fire.

No one was hurt, but the fire shut down traffic around the store, 102 W. Fourth Plain Blvd., that evening and did about $310,000 in damage.

No formal charges have been recommended for anyone, Scarpelli said, but the Vancouver Fire Department and the county’s juvenile justice system are working together in helping the boy and his family through the department’s youth fire setter intervention program.

“We encourage our citizens that are in our area, if they have concerns about their kids, to give us a call and we can get them scheduled for an intervention,” she said.

With very young children, fire-starting behavior often comes from curiosity and the tendency to parrot what they see the adults in their lives doing.

For instance, she said, a child might see parents lighting up cigarettes, then want to try using a lighter themselves.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an insurers trade group, playing with fire started an average of 49,300 fires per year from 2007 to 2011. Most of those fire were caused by children. More than 40 percent of house fires sparked by playing with fire were started by kids younger than 6.

The department’s fire setting program is free for families, Scarpelli said.

Parents with children who seem more interested in fire than feels appropriate, or who are actively setting fires, can contact the Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office at 360-487-7260 for help.