‘UNPRECEDENTED’ figures which reveal the full extent of the chaos caused by deliberate grassland fires across Barnsley this summer show they have more than doubled from last year’s statistics.

Up to 95 call-outs recorded as ‘serious’ by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue were carried out between July 30 and August 31, the Chronicle can reveal.

The alarming figures represent a significant rise on the same period from 2017, where 45 were dealt with across the borough.

However, grassland fires on a smaller scale which only require minimal time to put out are not included in the official figures, although SYFR said there had been 102 deemed to be less serious between June 1 and July 9
ten times as many as in 2016 and more than treble the call-outs in 2017.

Although incidents in parks, allotments, moorlands and woodlands have remained at about three per month, fires started on parkland, scrubland and farmers’ fields have risen dramatically across Barnsley.

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July’s heatwave which saw temperatures soar as high as 30C with very little rainfall  exacerbated the problem, according to SYFR, as dry grass is much easier to set on fire.

It enabled blaze to spread across hundreds of feet in a short space of time, as was witnessed at separate incidents in Dodworth last month and Monk Bretton in July, where homes were within metres of going up in flames.

Simon Brookes, community safety manager for SYFR, said: “It’s been an unprecedented summer there has been a big increase in deliberate fires and it’s had a massive impact on crews who are responding to reports.

“People’s lives have been put at risk and as we have a duty to respond to all types of fire, no matter how small it is, it could have prevented us from dealing with a potentially life-threatening fire elsewhere.

“It’s been the worst summer for grassland fires in memory and it’s important that credit is given to the crews who have worked tirelessly to stop the wilful neglect of others.

“We have been stretched but we have dealt with whatever has been thrown at us.

“We can often spend hours dealing with the flames from a grassland fire, especially so when it’s warm, the ground is dry and it’s spread as we saw on multiple occasions this summer.

“A perfect example is what happened in Dodworth, where a small fire spread quickly because of the conditions.

“That one damaged properties but it could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the quick-thinking officers who attended.”

SYFR whose officers have been into schools in the past to warn youngsters about the dangers of starting a fire are set to continue that to avoid a repeat next summer.

A spokesman appealed for the public to continue to help enquiries as they work alongside police to establish identities of those responsible for starting fires.

“Any small fire has the potential to spread and to become a more significant incident, and to potentially divert our resources from attending a more serious incident.

“Our crews and control staff have seen a large increase in grass fire incidents of this type over the last couple of months, not just in Barnsley but the whole of South Yorkshire.

Anyone with information about people starting fires in their area can call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.