Big fall in arson attacks as fire chiefs start ‘controlled burning’

GRASSLAND has been deliberately torched by firefighters as part of an initiative which has seen arson incidents fall by around 25 per cent, the South Yorkshire brigade said yesterday.

Senior officers revealed that “controlled burning” had taken place in several known “arson troublespots” in a bid to stop youngsters causing chaos by making fires which get out of control.

Cycle patrols and wheelie bin locks have also been successful in the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue (SYFR) campaign, with 184 fewer incidents this April compared to the same month last year.

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The brigade said deliberate fires traditionally increase in April, due to lighter nights, better weather and the spring school holiday break.

Officers had also expected more incidents because this April was also the warmest since records began.

Head of community safety Steve Makepeace said his staff had visited hundreds to schools to spell out to young people the consequences of fire-setting in the weeks leading up to one of the brigade’s busiest periods for deliberate fires.

The controlled burning took place in Doncaster, where firefighters worked with Doncaster Council to carry out operations in areas known to be popular with young arsonists.

One of these was Denaby Crags where grass and foliage was burned in the hope that fire-setters would be put off.

Mr Makepeace said the initiative worked, because no deliberate fires had been reported in the area since March, compared to more than 30 last spring.

Other activities have included a joint initiative between the fire service and South Yorkshire Police in Rotherham, which has seen two-person cycle patrol teams visit remote, arson prone locations’

The patrols provide a strong uniformed presence to deter would-be fire-setters as well as engaging with the community to identify potential arson risks.

A Sheffield pilot scheme has led to more than 400 weighted locks being fitted to wheelie bins in Longley in a bid to deter arsonists.

While in Barnsley, community events in Hoyland and Cudworth helped deliver advice on the safe storage of rubbish and waste to residents.

Mr Makepeace said: “We’ve shown already this spring that we’re using new ideas and working harder than ever to drive down deliberate fires, which are a massive drain on our resources, cost the taxpayer millions of pounds every year and represent a significant safety risk to the public.

“But residents must stay vigilant to the threat of arson and help us maintain these reductions, by telling us about potential arson risks, safely storing their rubbish and reporting fire setters who might be operating in their area.”

Mr Makepeace and his officers have also been helping to reduce the risk of fires on houseboats and other vessels on South Yorkshire’s waterways after extending the brigade’s home safety checks to rivers and canals.

This week, firefighters will visit boats along the River Don Navigation in Rotherham as part of National Boat Fire Safety Week which runs until June 5.

The week aims to curb fires on the water by advising boat owners on some of the most common causes of waterway blazes.

Mr Makepeace, added: “Although boat fires on inland waters are less common than fires on land, when they do occur, they can have absolutely devastating consequences.

“Boats are often in remote locations with difficult access, which may result in firefighters taking longer to arrive at an incident and allowing a fire to totally destroy a boat and everything on board.

“As well as taking into account fire safety on the boat we would urge boaters to ensure that they know their location at all times so that in the event of any emergency we can get there as soon as possible.”