Boy Accidentally Burns House 6-Year-Old Sparks Fire With Matches; Second Child In Week To Start Blaze
Sat., June 10, 1995
A 6-year-old boy accidentally set his family’s new home on fire Friday playing with matches.
Flames and smoke poured from the second-story window of the A Street house. Michael Veneroso, his parents and older sister had moved in only nine days earlier.
It was the second time in a week a young child has set a house ablaze after playing with fire.
“We’re getting really concerned about the number of kids that are setting fires in the city,” said Ken Gabriel, the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department’s public education coordinator.
So far this year children have set almost twice the number of fires they set last year, Gabriel said. “Something has got to be done about this.”
Mindy Veneroso, 14, was baby-sitting her 6-year-old brother, Michael, Friday morning while their parents were shopping. The boy was upstairs playing with Star Wars toys while his sister stayed downstairs.
“All of a sudden my little brother ran downstairs. He said there’s smoke coming out of the attic,” Mindy said, her eyes still wide with shock. “I ran up there and I saw these flames. I was scared.”
The girl called 911, grabbed her brother and ran from the home.
“I felt helpless just standing there,” she said. “I got the (garden) hose and I brought it around the house and started spraying it in the window. But I don’t think it did much good.”
Wiping away tears, Mindy and Michael sat huddled together on a neighbor’s front porch as firefighters doused their home. The boy tucked his head against the girl’s shoulder, watching them work.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Budvarson said it appears the boy accidentally started the fire while he was playing with matches in an upstairs storage room.
The family moved into the house nine days ago and had piled toys, books and other belongings into the room, said Elizabeth Veneroso, the children’s mother. She and her husband were renovating the house.
“We didn’t have many boxes unpacked and they just went up in smoke,” she said.
The mother thought she had kept all the matches in a safe place but said she may have forgotten a box left over from a barbecue the night before.
The fire destroyed much of the two childrens’ bedrooms, burning Mindy’s clothes and high school year book. Budvarson estimated the damage at $10,000.
During 1994 only 13 fires were attributed to children in Coeur d’Alene. So far this year, 22 children have started fires, Gabriel said.
And “They’re getting younger and younger,” he said.
Last Saturday, a 5-year-old boy torched part of his neighbor’s home on Wallace Avenue. He had been playing with a lighter.
Children who start fires in Coeur d’Alene are required to go through the department’s Youth Fire Center Program. During the two hourlong sessions Gabriel tries to teach the children that fire is a tool, not a toy.
Veneroso is looking forward to going through the class with her son.
“I’m just shocked my little one would do this,” she said. “Michael is such a good little obedient one.”
Gabriel said most of the children do not mean to hurt anything.
“I think for the majority of them it is just curiosity,” Gabriel said. “A great deal of them are real sorry that they did it.”
Veneroso said the fire and the blackened remains of the upstairs has scared her young son.
“He’s afraid to go up in his bedroom,” she said.
The family will try to rebuild their damaged home, Veneroso said. The day before the fire they had looked into getting homeowner’s insurance but were not able to until an insurance official inspected their house.
Despite the damage, “I’m just real thankful my kids are OK,” Veneroso said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Trust fund A trust fund has been opened at West One Bank to help Ed and Karen Worthley get back on their feet after a fire destroyed their Coeur d’Alene home last week. A neighbor child started the fire that burned most of the Worthleys’ belongings. They were renting and had no home insurance. Donations will be accepted at any West One branch. The account number is 12000-428-7681.
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