Arson attacks leave a trail of heartache

Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
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With arson attacks responsible for half of all South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s call-outs every year, The Star’s Crime Reporter Claire Lewis looks at how deadly deliberate fires can be.

IT’S been nearly a decade since Sheffield teenager Anneka Parsisson perished in an accidental house fire caused by faulty electrics - while the crews who could have saved her were tied up at an allotment blaze started by an arsonist.

Firefighters could have been at the 14-year-old’s home within 60 seconds if they had been at their station when the 999 call came in.

Instead they were dealing with a deliberately-set blaze started needlessly as a prank by a firebug.

With vital minutes lost, when firefighters from a station further away reached Anneka’s home on Harrison Road, Malin Bridge, they found the stricken teen dangling unconscious from a second floor bedroom window.

The Wisewood School pupil died in hospital three weeks later after suffering multiple organ failure caused by horrific burns to 70 per cent of her body.

It was a tragedy which shocked Sheffield - yet still deadly arson attacks have continued in the years since Anneka’s death in 2001.

In 2005 three members of the same Sheffield family were murdered in a blaze started deliberately by an arsonist who set fire to their wheelie bin and pushed it up against their home.

Anthony Brightmore, aged 68, and his wife Patricia, 65, died together in their home on Batemoor Walk, Batemoor, as choking smoke rushed inside from fierce flames which raged outside their front door.

Although their blind son Stephen, 35, initially survived the horror blaze, he had suffered such severe burns that he died in hospital two days later.

And in 2007 Robert Griffiths, of Lowlands Walk, Askern, Doncaster, died when a fire was started deliberately in a bin store at the back of his ground-floor flat.

The 56-year-old, who needed a mobility scooter to get around so was unable to escape, suffered horrendous burns and smoke inhalation and died six days later.

While deaths caused by arson attacks leave a trail of heartache and despair, fire-starters are also responsible for causing misery for tens of thousands of other South Yorkshire residents year after year.

Homes are damaged, cars destroyed, gardens and allotments ruined and playgrounds wrecked.

Businesses are blighted too. The Whitehill Garage in Catcliffe, Rotherham, was forced to close down last summer after a blaze started by an arsonist ripped through the premises. The garage had been going for 31 years, and owner Roger Moore said he is still struggling to come to terms with his loss.

In Sheffield the Job Lot shop on Barnsley Road, Shiregreen, caught fire only last week after flames from rubbish set alight outside spread into the premises. Firefighters had to use bolt cutters to gain access to the store to prevent flames ripping through the building.

And it was perhaps the same arsonist who caused misery for the 231st Shiregreen Scout Group, too.

Their hut, also on Barnsley Road, Shiregreen, was badly damaged when rubbish was piled up against the back and set alight - burning through a door and smoke logging the building.

Leaders arriving at the headquarters to open up for 25 scouts due to meet there spotted smoke and dialled 999.

The fire damage will cost hundreds of pounds to repair. Money raised at the scouts’ fundraising fayre last weekend - which had been earmarked for a camp later this year - will instead now be spent on improving scout hut security and repairing the damage.

Scout Leader Daniel Levick said the arson attack - an insignificant and mindless prank in the eyes of the culprit - had caused untold misery to the scouts.

“It is sad to think anyone can act in this way,” he said. “Scouting teaches young people to play an active role in their community, to be good role models, and empowers them to make a difference.

“This won’t stop us from helping scouts to develop, but it does make it that bit harder.”

More calls with lighter nights

WITH lighter nights, warmer weather and summer fast approaching firefighters are expecting a traditional increase in arson attacks over the next few months.

As well as working with schools to help spread the message to youngsters about how dangerous arson attacks can be, firefighters have also issued advice on what people can do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

The fire service wants residents to put wheelie bins out early on the morning of collection rather than the night before, and urges people to take their bin back in as soon as possible after collection.

Bins should not be over-filled and should not be stored close to homes or business premises.

And, in one of the largest schemes of its type ever piloted in the UK, hundreds of locks are being fitted to wheelie bins in Longley in a bid to make them vandal-proof.

Only householders with keys for the bins are able to open them - and it is hoped making the bins impossible to open without a key will make them less tempting to arsonists.

Blaze incidents

Bank Holiday Monday - Vauxhall Corsa torched outside Eastern Villas, Thorne Road, Thorne.

Easter Sunday - Bin set alight behind St John’s Church, Hyde Park, Sheffield; bench found burning in Bradgate Park, Bradgate, Rotherham.

Saturday - Wheelie bins set alight on Stapleton Road, Edlington at 2am; former fireplace shop on Cowper Avenue, Foxhill, Sheffield, found burning; blaze on Lowedges Road, Lowedges, after accelerant poured over the door of an unoccupied flat and set alight; traffic cones set alight after being dragged into the garden of an unoccupied flat on Tuxford Crescent, Cundy Cross, Barnsley.

Good Friday - blaze at the back of the Metrodome, Queens Road, Barnsley; four wheelie bins fires in Moorends Rec in Park Road, Moorends.

Deliberate fires

Figures for 2011, up to the end of last Friday, show 20 house fires have been started deliberately in Sheffield so far this year. In Rotherham the figure is 10, in Barnsley five, and in Doncaster 12.

In 2010 there were 82 deliberately-started house fires in Sheffield, 29 in Rotherham, 24 in Barnsley and 38 in Doncaster.

In 2009 there were 112 deliberately-started house fires in Sheffield, 35 in Rotherham, 21 in Barnsley and 44 in Doncaster.

By last Friday there had been 98 vehicle fires started deliberately in Sheffield since the beginning of the year, 27 in Rotherham, 34 in Barnsley and 52 in Doncaster.

In 2010 there were 342 in Sheffield, 124 in Rotherham, 105 in Barnsley and 154 in Doncaster.

In 2009 there were 462 in Sheffield, 173 in Rotherham, 146 in Barnsley and 217 in Doncaster.

There has been a year-on-year reduction in smaller arson attacks, with a total of 8,471 recorded in 2007 followed by 6,252 in 2008, then 4,803 in 2009 and 4,181 in 2010.