South Yorkshire fire chiefs winning war on arson attacks

Firefighters tackle a huge fire in Mexborough. Picture Tim Ansell.
Firefighters tackle a huge fire in Mexborough. Picture Tim Ansell.
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Fire chiefs are winning the war on arson attacks in South Yorkshire – but warn more needs to be done.

The number of fires started deliberately across the county has dropped by hundreds of cases in 2014, compared with the previous year, initial figures suggest.

Chief fire officer Jamie Courtney, of South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, said: “We have a number of arson reduction projects which are working quite well and the number of deliberate fires is reducing – we will never get rid of them completely.”

Newly released figures show deliberate blazes at homes, buildings and targeting of cars fell from 753 in 2013 to 619 up until the end of November this year.

The number of minor fires started in bins and involving rubbish or grass, also dropped from 2,982 to 2,382 – a reduction of 734 before December’s figures are taken into account.

The fire service said the reduction was in part down to its work educating young people in schools about the consequences of such anti-social behaviour and building relationships with them.

Mr Courtney said: “We’ve worked hard to reduce the number of deliberate fires over the years to good effect.

“It used to often be about young people setting fire to stuff, so it has been about educating people about what the outcome of that might be.

“To them it is just a small fire, but to us it might mean our resources are tied up when something more urgent comes in.”

The number of fires overall has also fallen, from 5,963 in 2013 – about 500 per month – to 4,156 by the end of November in 2014, an average of less than 380 each month.

Fatal fires are at an all time low nationally, but in South Yorkshire the number of deaths rose from five in 2013 to 12 so far in 2014, because of two major blazes which killed several people.

Five people, including three children, tragically died in the house fire on Wake Road, Sharrow, in April.

And in October Darren Sykes and his sons Paul and Jack perished in a blaze in Tennyson Close, Penistone.

However, the number of road collisions firefighters have attended has risen, from 312 in 2013 to 331 by the end of November 2014.

Firefighters can often spend hours at crash scenes helping to rescue people trapped in cars.

Mr Courtney said: “The numbers of road collisions we attend is increasing.

“It feels like there are more cars on the road just travelling around Sheffield on a day-to-day basis – so I suppose it is linked to that.”

He said the service was also working with police to teach young people the importance of safe driving.