Let’s put out arson blight

Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
Firefighters tackle a massive fire in Mexborough. Picture: Tim Ansell
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A daily average of 12 arson attacks involving bins, rubbish, grassland and fencing were reported to the fire service and police between the early hours of Monday and midday on Friday - and fire chiefs fear a massive increase on these figures this week as children begin their six week summer break from school.

It follows a two day ‘spike’ in arson attacks earlier this month when over a two day period firefighters were called out to 43 deliberately started ‘anti-social behaviour’ fires compared to a daily average of 11.

Last week call-out numbers dropped - and fire chiefs hope that is a result of parents taking notice of their warnings in The Star and speaking to their children about the dangers and consequences of starting fires.

But the majority of the arson attacks dealt with last week are still believed to have been started by youths. Firefighters were also called out to 10 deliberately started car fires, one house fire and one shed blaze, believed to have been started by older offenders.

There were a total of 18 incidents dealt in Sheffield, nine in Rotherham, 19 in Barnsley and 15 in Doncaster.

As youngsters were today starting their first full week off school, South Yorkshire’s emergency services today issued a new plea to young firebugs to think about the lives and properties their actions could put at risk.

Steve Makepeace, head of community safety, said: “We’re pleased that the public are responding to our pleas for vigilance, with below average levels of these types of fire in the last week.

“But with the summer school holidays just around the corner, we’re worried that the message still needs to get through to young people that starting fires is not harmless fun and puts lives in danger on a daily basis.

“In particular, we’d ask that parents look out for the tell-tale signs of fire-setting and contact us for advice before it becomes a serious problem. These signs might include small burns around the home, matches or lighters going missing or an unusual fascination with fire.

“Arson has fallen massively in recent years, thanks to our targeted education and prevention work. But we still attend around 5,000 deliberately-started fires every year, with a massive cost to us and the taxpayer in South Yorkshire. We’d much rather be putting those resources into reducing deaths and serious injuries in accidental fires and on the roads.”

One of the most serious arson attacks last week destroyed a South Yorkshire football club’s tea bar.

The blaze at Brodsworth Main FC’s ground on Forth Avenue, Woodlands, engulfed the wooden unit and there were fears that an adjoining social club was at risk of going up in flames.

Firefighters battled to prevent the blaze spreading but there was so much smoke in the area residents were advised to keep their doors and windows closed until the flames were out.

The blaze tied up three fire engines and crews for two-and-a-half hours.

And in another incident in the same week arsonists placed a large amount of corrugated plastic beside the railway line off Barrowfield Road, Goldthorpe, Barnsley, and set fire to it.

Train operators using the line were advised of the incident while firefighters were extinguishing the blaze and removing the debris from the tracks.

British Transport Police are investigating in a bid to find the culprit.

A spokeswoman said: “Officers attended alongside colleagues from South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and discovered that some plastic tubing had been set on fire.

“The incident is currently being treated as suspicious. An investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing.

“Fire crews extinguished the fire, which had spread across the wooded area – around 30 yards – reaching a relay box and causing signal failure.”

THERE were 5,257 arson attacks across the county last year - but just seven years earlier firebugs were responsible for a startling 15,463 incidents over the same 12 month period.

Despite the 66 per cent reduction in deliberately-started fires crews are still called out to an average of one every two hours.

Of the arson attacks 4,181 were recorded as ‘anti-social behaviour’ fires last year, believed to be the work of children , compared to 8,605 in 2006.

Watch manager Simon Brookes, who has been a firefighter for 22 years, said the number of arson attacks in South Yorkshire is reducing year on year, but there are always “seasonal spikes” and the summer holidays are a traditionally busy time.

He said arsonists need to realise that fires can tie appliances up for hours at a time, preventing them from being available to deal with incidents where lives could be at risk.

“People may think that a simple grass fire is a harmless bit of fun but if it’s in a hard-to-reach area such as a woodland we can be tied up for three or four hours, taking us out of circulation if there are any life-threatening incidents reported at the same time,” he said.

“Firefighters have all the equipment they need and professional training and experience to deal with a fire, but those I fear for are the people in the community whose lives are put at risk by those who put a drain on our resources by tying us up at unnecessary incidents so that we are not available for genuine emergencies.”

He said firebugs need to realise their actions could cost the life of a friend, neighbour or relative.

“Fire appliances are there for the communities where they are based - they are there to help save the lives of local people so if people are going about starting anti-social fires then that could cost the life of somebody they know and they would have to live with that.

“Stations are based in communities based on risk, because there is a need for them.

“Lives have been lost over the years.”

Chief Inspector Gwyn Thomas, of South Yorkshire Police’s community safety department, said his force works ‘hand in hand’ with the fire service on reducing arson attacks, with educational programmes one of their priorities. Bobbies and firefighters run courses and give talks in schools as well as staging specialist events to help reinforce the message that fire kills.

“What we are seeing is a decrease year-on-year on all types of fires but we do see seasonal trends and one of these is during the school summer period.”

He said the police investigate all arson attacks and seek to prosecute offenders.

“We investigate, in conjunction with the fire service, all fires,” he said.

“We work in tandem with the fire service to gain evidence and actively seek a positive prosecution.”

To report firebugs call South Yorkshire Police on 0114 2202020 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.