CHILDREN have been warned not to play with fire since the first woolly mammoth roast.

But the massive increase in arson attacks in North Yorkshire has nothing to do with man's timeless fascination with fire. It is another example of the dereliction of parental duty which leaves youngsters to wander the streets and wreak what havoc they please.

Various institutions are now tackling the consequences of negligent parenting. Last week we revealed how the police and schools had identified a hard core minority of youths who were causing persistent trouble in York's classrooms and neighbourhoods.

Today the fire service follows suit. It is hiring a youth worker specifically to address the firebugs.

This worker will try to impress upon young people the potentially fatal consequences of starting fires, and address any personal issues which may be at the root of this dangerous habit.

Ten years ago, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service was in such dire financial straits it had to axe safety campaigns. It is reassuring to find that fire prevention is now back where it should be - as the service's top priority.

If the youth worker prevents one serious blaze, he or she will have earned their salary. The cost of a school fire - financially and emotionally - is huge. Small traders can be put out of business by an arson attack.

Hiring an "anti-arson" officer is only one part of the answer, however. Better planning is essential: in March it emerged that three privately-financed York schools were to be built without sprinkler systems.

The police and courts must do all they can to bring to justice those yobs who start a blaze and attack the fire officers who respond.

Updated: 10:10 Tuesday, June 15, 2004