Fighting the firebugs

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Fire chiefs are gearing up for the worst time of the year for arson attacks in South Yorkshire - with lighter nights expected to lead to a surge in the number of deliberately-started blazes.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service dealt with 12,416 ‘low level’ arson attacks - bins set alight, piles of rubbish burned, grass and woodland going up in flames - between April 2009 and November last year.

But statistics show an annual hike in the number of incidents reported in the spring months, coinciding with longer days. The number of incidents traditionally doubles compared to the winter months.

And, although offences are dropping year-on-year, fire chiefs are using this week’s half-term school holiday to urge parents to speak to their children about the dangers of arson attacks - warning even small fires can spread and put lives at risk.

Station manager Jon Torn, from the community safety department, said: “We’re gearing up for what is traditionally a very busy period for us, as small, deliberate fires tend to spike when the nights get lighter and the weather improves.

“We’ve reduced arson massively in recent years through school visits, diversionary activities and community work with the police and councils, and those measures are all in full swing again now to ensure the county stays safe.”

Fire bosses stress that not only do arsonists put themselves at risk, they also jeopardise the safety of innocent members of the public and the firefighters called out to deal with them.

And, for every arson attack, crews are tied up and unavailable should genuine emergencies occur.

“Arson is a massive, costly problem and puts lives at risk every day,” said station manager Torn. “Dealing with small fires means fire engines may not be available to respond to emergencies which threaten lives.

“People maliciously starting fires can have no appreciation of the potential consequences of their actions.

“We’ve had tragedies before in South Yorkshire where people have died, either as a result of a small fire getting out of control or because our fire engines were busy elsewhere dealing with one of these incidents.”

In 2001 a nuisance fire on an allotment led to delays in Sheffield firefighters reaching 14-year-old Anneka Parsisson, who was trapped in a blaze which ripped through her home, trapping her upstairs. The youngster, of Harrison Road, Malin Bridge, died in hospital from multiple organ failure three weeks after suffering burns to 70 per cent of her body.