Artist jailed for causing over £500,000 of damage by starting devastating fire on Marsden Moor as he 'experimented' with firecracker

A man caused more than half a million pounds worth of damage and destroyed wildlife habitats when he set fire to a Yorkshire moorland as he carried out an 'experiment' with a firecracker.

Viktor Riedly was locked up for 12 months after a court heard how 285 hectares of land on Marsden Moor was devastated by his "act of gross and crass recklessness".

Leeds Crown Court heard Riedly caused the blaze as he carried out an "experiment" with a device he had created for letting fireworks off remotely.

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Charlotte Rimmer, prosecuting, said Riedly tested out the device by setting off a firecracker on April 25 last year.

Viktor Riedly was jailed for 12 months for causing the fire which devastated 285 hectares of land on Marsden Moor in April last year.

Embers from the firecracker started the fire which quickly spread across the moorland near Holmfirth.

It destroyed precious peatland habitat and harmed wildlife including ground nesting birds in a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Members of the public contacted emergency services and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) declared a major incident.

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Firefighters spent three days bringing the moorland under control, at a cost of £410,000.

It took three days to bring the blaze under control with specialist units being called in from across the county.

The prosecutor said the incident cost WYFRS £410,000.

It also cost the National Trust £167,000 to repair the damage.

Riedly, of Henry Street, Huddersfield, pleaded guilty to arson.

Viktor Riedly was jailed for 12 months after Leeds Crown Court heard how he started the fire on Marsden Moor as he experimented with a firecracker.

Anastasis Tasou, mitigating, said: "He accepted full responsibility and he is a man who has exhibited genuine remorse over his actions.

"He is not a young hooligan. He is otherwise a respectable person.

"He just didn't consider that there was a risk in an area that was devoid of buildings."

Mr Tasou added: "It was a relatively early part of the year but it was unusually dry and windy. This must have contributed to the fact that the fire started."

The fire destroyed precious peatland habitat and harmed wildlife including ground nesting birds in a site of special scientific interest

The court heard Riedly works as a 3D artist.

The barrister said his client had applied to become a volunteer for the National Trust to help repair the damage he had caused.

Mr Tasou said: "He is not a bad person - it is not often an advocate can make that submission. He does not deserve to go to custody today when he can contribute to society."

Judge Neil Clark said the offence was too serious to impose anything other than an immediate prison sentence.

He told Riedly: "It was an act of gross and crass recklessness"

"This was done for no other reason than to satisfy your curiosity for what you had created.

"People have to understand that taking risks with such a vital public amenity cannot be tolerated."

After the hearing, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager Scott Donegan said “We as a service very much welcome the sentence handed out today and hope it reminds others not to start fires on our moorland.

"This fire caused huge damage to the environment on the moor and required a large response from WYFRS.

“Fires like these are the reason we have Public Space Protection Orders banning flammable items like fireworks, barbeques and fires on moorland – they can have a devastating impact on the brilliant spaces we are lucky enough to have in West Yorkshire.”

Recovery work following the fire has already begun, with 65,000 sphagnum moss plugs planted across Marsden Moor over autumn and winter.

The moss helps to re-wet the moorland, reducing the risk of future fires.

It also helps to restore peat and capture carbon.

Most of the planting has been done by volunteers, including local school children and firefighters from Meltham and Slaithwaite Fire Station.

The ban on BBQs and fires on Marsden Moor runs all year round and is part of a public spaces protection order (PSPO).