Key words: Fire setting, mental health, Nigeria, pyromania, arson.


Fire Setting and Mental Health in Nigeria. Why would someone decide to deliberately or otherwise, set fire on his or someone’s property? Are there underlying psychiatric conditions to this? is there a relationship between fire setting and mental health in Nigeria?

Fire setting is a behavioral issue whereby the person starts a fire deliberately or accidentally.

A. Deliberate causes to fire setting.

Actually, there are two types of deliberate fire setters. These include those with pyromania, and those who commit arson. And there are also those who just set fires out of curiosity. Then there are those who set fires due to hallucinations and delusions. This is one link between fire setting and mental health. In all cases, there are destructions of properties such as buildings, bushes, cars, etc. The perpetrators could be either males or females. They can be children or adults, and they can be perpetrated alone or in groups.

  1. Fire setting out of curiosity or experimentation.
  • This type of deliberate fire setting is done out of curiosity or experimentation. The person wants to know the effect of putting fire on such a property.
  • The perpetrators can be children. These children are most often hyperactive or have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These actions from children with ADHD, shows that fire setting and mental health are linked in Nigeria.
  • These children do not understand the consequences of playing with fire.
  • Children 10 years or younger, are usually the perpetrators. And they like playing with matches
  • These children act alone. And the act can be carried out in hidden places such as a closet, under the bed, etc.
  • They can actually panic when the fire gets out of hand.

2. Pyromania.

a. Symptoms:

  • Pyromania is a psychiatric condition whereby the person suffers from an impulse control disorder. As an impulse control disorder, the person has issues with controlling his or her emotions and actions. Thus, he or she is unable to resist the impulse to set fire.
  •  As the fire is on, the person fixes the mind on fire men, fire truck or fire building office.
  • Before the fire is actually set by the perpetrator, tension builds up inside the person. He becomes restless, has headache and palpitations, etc.
  • Having set the fire on the building, forest, etc., these symptoms subside immediately.
  • This type of fire setting can happen several times in the person’s life. And it violates the rights of other people.

b. Causes and risk factors:

  • Pyromania can be due to problems with the neurochemicals in the person’s brain.
  • It can occur when the individual has biological parents who have mental health issues.
  • An individual that is raised in a family without a father is also at risk.
  • Children and adults raised in dysfunctional families where they are or were abused, physically or psychologically are at risk. Even children who are suffering neglect are at risk, as well.

c. Gain:

  • There is really no material gain from setting the fire. It is done to relieve tension.
  • The fire setting is done to get the euphoric feeling, gratification and excitement.
  • Once the fire starts and the fire fighters come into action, the perpetrator goes home and gets a good night sleep.

3. Arson.

a. Arson is a legal term where the perpetrator intentionally sets fire and is aware of the consequences. So there is a willful act to damage the property.

  • The property destroyed could belong to the perpetrator or to another person.
  • Thus arson is a crime. And it is a premeditated crime.
  • The person who commits arson does not care about the safety of people inside the property.

b. Causes and risk factors:

  • Many people who commit arson are most often under the influence of substance, such as alcohol, etc.
  • They could also have personality disorders. These include antisocial personality disorder, schizoid, etc.

c. Gains:

  • Financial gain is the majority of reasons for arson. This is done mainly to gain insurance reimbursement.
  • Arson is also committed to cover up for other crimes already committed. For example, stealing a file or a murder case can predispose to arson.
  • The perpetrator can commit arson for revenge purposes.
  • Arson can also be done for political gains.

d. Red flags:

  • It is possible to recognize the individual who may end up committing arson in future.
  • Children, who start playing with matches or fire as early as the age of 3 years, may commit arson in future.
  • The children, who are happy mixing chemicals that can cause fire or explosions, may end up committing arson in future.
  • Children who get excited while watching fires are at risk.

4. Fire setting due to other mental and neurological health conditions.

a. Fire setting due to psychiatric or psychological conditions:

  • There is a relationship between fire setting and mental health.
  • Those who are under stress from any cause can engage in fire setting as a cry for help.
  • These include children who are raised in dysfunctional homes where they are abused. This means that children who are undergoing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are at risk of fire setting. This is because they use it as a means to let out tension or showing their grievances. It also helps them feel that they are in control of situations.
  • Children and adolescents, who have conduct disorder, can set fires for the excitement, fun and sports purposes. Children who are delinquent could also be fire setters. Some of these adolescents can join in riots to set fire to buildings, cars, etc.
  • Individuals who suffer from pyrophilia can be perpetrators of fire setting. Such an individual will willfully set fire to get sexually aroused. The person sets fire for his/her sexual craving and satisfaction.
  • Individuals suffering from mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorders, etc. can end up setting fire from delusions and hallucinations.

b. Fire setting due to neurological/cognitive issues:

  • Those with neurodevelopmental disorders are at risk of being perpetrators of fire setting.
  • Those with Intellectual Disabilities (ID), i.e. those with IQ or Intelligent Quotient 70 and below are at risk. Not all people with ID become perpetrators of fire setting. Being under stress or anger, can be a risk factor for them to perpetrate fire setting. Those with low IQ, can also set fire for revenge, curiosity, excitement and thrills. While some do so to help code with stress.
  • Some individuals with autism can also perpetrate fire setting.

B. Accidental causes.

There are medical conditions which can predispose one to accidental fire setting. These conditions include, sleep walking, dementia, etc.

  • During sleep walking, the individual can go to the kitchen and attempt to engage in cooking. While at it he/she may cause fire accidentally, either by leaving the food to burn, or not turning off the cooker.
  • Those with dementia and problems with memory, and may have forgotten where the kitchen and cooker are. Even on getting to the kitchen, they may forget to turn off the cooker.

C. Is there any spiritual cause to fire setting?

Many Africans, Nigeria inclusive, tend to ascribe spirituality to things or conditions that they do not understand. This aids in reducing tension and guilt as well as offering a means for treatment, which are traditional or spiritual. But modern science has provided the link between fire setting and mental health. And we have seen this played out severally in Nigeria.

D. Treatment for fire setters.

  1. Psychological treatment:
  • This type of treatment is offered by a clinical psychologist.
  • This could come as cognitive therapy. There could also be a behavioral therapy. In some cases, the cognitive and behavioral therapies are combined and named as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • There could also be social skills and problem solving skills training. Relaxation training are also included.
  • Parents are also trained on how to care for the children who have issues.

2. Medication treatment:

  • This treatment forms comes from a psychiatrist.
  • The individuals with mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, etc. will benefit from medications. Even children with ADHD, can benefit from medication treatment.

3. Jail term or monetary fines:

  • This will depend on the court judgment.
  • In arson, because it is premeditated and a criminal act, the individual may be incarcerated. This will depend on the degree of the crime.
  • In some offences, the individual is fined.

E. Home prevention.

  • Teach children what the legitimate use of fire is for. Tell them that fire is meant for cooking.
  • Teach them that one should always be careful with matches and lighters. Tell them how destructive these things can be. And that they should never play with fire.
  • Keep all matches, lighter and explosives away from the reach of children.
  • Never leave children unattended to when around fire or fire instruments.

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