What is a Pyromaniac?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A pyromaniac, also known as a pyro, is a person who suffers from the condition pyromania, an impulse control disorder. People with pyromania purposely create fires to relieve their own stress. Pyromaniacs also start fires to induce a state of euphoria within themselves, which usually occurs after the fire is set.

The obsession with starting fires is a type of impulse control disorder.
The obsession with starting fires is a type of impulse control disorder.

The disease is acknowledged to be very rare. The incidence of pyromania is generally considered to be at less than one percent; impulse control disorders overall, including pyromania as well as compulsive gambling and shopping, affect less than one tenth of the population. Pyromaniacs account for a very small amount of psychiatric hospital admissions. Of the patients who are diagnosed with pyromania, 90 percent are male.

Hypnosis may be used to treat impulse control disorders such as pyromania.
Hypnosis may be used to treat impulse control disorders such as pyromania.

Though extremely rare in youth, children as young as three years of age have been known to suffer from pyromania. Most children arrested for arson are not considered pyromaniacs; fires started by child pyromaniacs are considered the most rare of all intentional fires set. As the disease is so rare, most children who start fires are not yet diagnosed with pyromania. Instead, they are considered to be suffering from conduct disorders until they are older.

Behavior modification through psychotherapy may be necessary to treat pyromania.
Behavior modification through psychotherapy may be necessary to treat pyromania.

In order to treat a pyromaniac, behavior modification may be administered through psychotherapy. This is the most frequently used treatment. A pyromaniac may also be analyzed by a physician in order to determine the true cause of his or her behavior. Once this cause, or subconscious problem, is located, the therapist of the pyromaniac will then help the patient through the problem.

Prognosis for the recovery of an adult pyromaniac is usually fair to poor. Children treated with family therapy and community intervention have a much larger success rate; almost all child pyromaniacs can recover completely. When treatment fails, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may be administered in able to stabilize the pyromaniac's emotions and stress level. The patient may also be provided with an outlet for his or her desires in a simulated environment.

Pyromania should be distinguished separately from arson, which is the deliberate destruction of property or wildlife with fire. It is also separate from pyrophilia, a rare disease in which the victim becomes sexually aroused by fire or starting fires. A pyromaniac is also different from people who set fires out of revenge or some kind of gain, whether political, monetary, or otherwise. Overall, less than one fifth of fires with a human source are started by pyromaniacs.

Pyromania may be a symptom of a more extensive conduct disorder in children.
Pyromania may be a symptom of a more extensive conduct disorder in children.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@ElbowTickle - There are lots of female fire villains. To name a couple, Witchgirl from X-Men and Volcana from Secret Wars. But neither are pyromaniacs or arsonists – they just control fire.

I guess they might be arsonists. Arsonists start fires to gain something -- be it a bad reputation -- while pyromaniacs start fires to satisfy a personal psychological need. I think that villains definitely are trying to gain something.

Luckily, pyromania can be treated – but arson-ism is more of a problem. I think half of the problem with arsonist is that they've been told that fire is cool – by movies and comic books. We need more heroes and villains based on a different element.


@Jacques6 - Comic books like pyromaniacs more than arsonists – but most villains in movies are actually arsonists, not pyromaniacs. I can't think of a single female fire starting villain – it's always a man.

You said that pyromania is an impulse disorder and that it affects mostly men – that's very surprising! Pyromania is also caused by neglect and sexual abuse, which affects more about 70% of women. It's weird that more men have pyromania than women, since that's the case.


Pyromaniac disorders are used so often in movies, it's funny to see that they only affect less than a tenth of the population. Fire is such a powerful and dangerous thing in nature, I guess it makes for interesting bad guys.

Interestingly enough, 90% of pyromaniacs are male. Since it's a branch of impulse control disorders, I wander if that means that men have more problems with impulse control disorders than women do?


I wonder if pyromaniacs get any kind of sexual gratification from setting fires. Perhaps I’ve read a little too much of Freud, but it does seem that almost any really odd behavior like this is often connected to a sexually satisfying experience as well.

I noticed that the article did mention that it could induce a state of euphoria for the pyromaniac to set fires, but I wasn’t sure if this is specifically what he meant or not.

It seems that we are some really sexually dysfunctional folks these days.


She said that when I was just a toddler I made off with a box of matches and hid behind the drapes to light them one after the other. Apparently, no one knew what was up until I lit the carpet on fire.

Fortunately, it was a very small fire and my mother was very close by. No one was injured, but there was a nice, little hole in the carpet.

She said that I also had a huge infatuation with campfires and the like, and that I would just stand and stare at them and poke them with a stick for minutes at the time.

I never had the nerve to ask why a toddler was able to get hold of matches, or why a toddler was standing next to an open, blazing fire in the first place.

Of course, those were different times than we have now. I suppose everybody did these sorts of things. It's amazing that any of us lived to tell the tale.

Post your comments
Forgot password?