arson attacks are putting communities in jeopardy, unions have warned, as the scale of the burden they place on the region’s fire services is laid bare.
Across Yorkshire and the Humber, Home Office figures show, there were more than 400 fires set deliberately last year. Targeted safety campaigns are seeing the number of fires crews are called to fall, the county’s services have said, yet senseless attacks are still impacting, on average, every day.
“Starting fires deliberately in the home is a heinous crime,” said Dave Green, national officer at the Fire Brigades Union. “Arsonists do not just put the immediate victims at risk; they put whole communities and firefighters themselves in jeopardy.”
Across England, 346 people lost their lives in fires between October 2016 and September 2017, the figures show, including 47 in deliberately started fires. The Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 71 lives, meant the figure was the highest for any 12-month period since the data was first recorded in 2009. Across Yorkshire and Humber, firefighters were called to attend fires set deliberately, at least once a day last year.
Steve Duffield, group manager for public safety at Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, said it has focused intensely over recent years on safety and prevention campaigns, with the result being a fall in the number of incidents they are called to attend. But, he added, there was a small rise at the same time of the proportion believed to be deliberate.
“Any fire has devastating consequences for the people involved,” he said. “And when fires are set deliberately, it takes us away from other incidents where resource may be needed more urgently.”
David Winpenny, chairman of the Ripon Civic Society, expressed fears that historic buildings are at risk after a blaze at the city’s former Cathedral Choir School earlier this month.
“Larger, older buildings that have fallen out of use and into disrepair are particularly vulnerable,” he said, calling for more to be done across the county in keeping historic assets safe. But while developers and authorities can effect change, he said, it is primarily down to those who commit the acts, he said, adding: “This is not how people should behave.”
The official figures show there were more than 150 incidents of arson attended in West Yorkshire, 132 in South Yorkshire, and 115 in Humberside. In North Yorkshire, where the number of calls fell 10 per cent, crews were called to 348 house fires in the year to September, with 21 being arson.
“The fire and rescue service is already stretched to the limit in the fire cover they can provide,” added Mr Green. “If firefighters are dealing with an arson at the same time as another fire call comes in, then those other victims are looking at a long wait before we can get to them.”