Objectives. To explore subjective experiences of women in secure services of their firesetting behaviour, its personal meaning and the factors that contributed to its development.

Design. An interview-based study using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

Methods. Interviews were carried out with nine women, in medium secure services, with histories of firesetting.

Results. Three overarching but interlinked themes emerged, reflecting a narrative progression from the context of life experiences that preceded firesetting (including subthemes: distressing experiences and isolation from support), through the experience and meaning of the firesetting act (influencing others and getting help, achievement and control, and not thought through), to the individual's current position regarding past actions.

Conclusions. The clinical implications of the findings are considered in the context of the existing male-orientated firesetting knowledge base and emerging models of service delivery to women in secure settings.