Children as young as eight are receiving therapy in an attempt to stop them from deliberately starting fires.

Staffordshire Fire Service has set up the project to steer juveniles away from arson attacks. Incidents range from children throwing substances on gas fires, setting alight their bedrooms and even targeting schools.

Among those on the initiative include three youths who set fire to Chase Terrace Technology College in Burn-twood and a youngster who set alight a sports pavilion, causing £50,000 of damage.

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The Xtinguish programme, which has seen 97 per cent of those taking part not reoffending, was praised by the Government for helping reduce the number of arsons.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said the service illustrated how the increasing community role of the fire service had a real impact on people's lives.

The ODPM announced it was handing out £11.4 million in fire prevention grants for 2006 to 2008, including £153,000 to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Fire Authority.

A further £711,000 has been granted to fire prevention in the West Midlands, £75,000 to Hereford and Worcester, £62,000 to Warwickshire and £52,000 to Shropshire.

Martin Hall, youth intervention manager for Staffordshire Fire Service, said Xtinguish had helped 55 young offenders since it was set up two years ago.

Each youngster is referred to the programme by magistrates and goes through a ten-week intensive course.

He said: "We use cognitive behavioural therapy to help the youngsters and rather than dictate to them, we let them work out for themselves what they have done.

"Some of the eight year-olds set fire to things out of curiosity, some are suffering from neglect or peer pressure and a lot of it is a cry for help.

"When one person is convicted of one fire, it is often the case that they have been doing it for years and has been involved in 60 to 70 incidents and so if you can stop them from doing it again that has to got to help the reduction."