Barnsley Council’s grass-cutting policy changed on April 1, resulting in some playing fields which were previously cut every 15 days now being done every 30.
The matter has been brought up as a matter of concern by members of the Central Area Council, which is responsible for the Dodworth ward where a high-profile blaze took place on August 1 last summer.
That incident, in a Keresforth field off Water Royd Drive bordered on three sides by housing, saw more than 30 firefighters tackle the flames which spread 500 square metres and damaged properties’ windows, sheds and conservatories.
At the time residents blamed a lax schedule of grass-cutting and the council’s reluctance to collect remnants, leaving large mounds which allowed the flames to spread quicker.
Coun Neil Wright said: “Scars remain from last year’s fire and we simply cannot allow that to happen again. We’re well into the weather where everything grows much quicker and I fully expect complaints to come in about the new cutting policy.”
A total of 877 grassland arsons took place across the town in 2018 - representing a 38 per cent increase on the previous year’s reports - with a particular pinch-point occurring between June 30 and August 30 when more than 100 call-outs to deliberate blazes recorded as ‘serious’ were dealt with in Barnsley.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s community safety officers highlighted the Dodworth incident as the worst of its kind during the ‘unprecedented’ summer.
Coun Peter Fielding added: “We’ve already had complaints about the revision to the cutting procedure as we’ve seen just how fast fires involving grassland can take hold. Any changes to the service always provoke reaction from the public, understandably so given what they witnessed before. Other fields in the area appear like they haven’t been cut at all but I’m led to believe there’s been an issue with some of the machinery, as well as adverse weather conditions.
“It’s important it’s rectified as the hiccup could not have come at a worse time given we’re well into the season where everything grows much quicker.”
Fire bosses say deliberate fires across Barnsley have fallen ‘significantly’ during the last decade, although they warned smaller fires have grown into large-scale operations and revealed an education programme delivered in schools is underway ahead of the summer holidays which begin at the end of next month.
Community safety manager Matt Gillatt said: “Barnsley had some very serious grassland fires last summer, incidents not helped by the fact we had long spells of hot, dry weather.
“We saw the same pattern across South Yorkshire as a whole, but fires started as a bit of fun can soon turn into something much more serious and divert crews from dealing with life-threatening situations elsewhere.
“Grass, especially when it’s had little rain, is stood up on end and is the perfect material for a fire to spread. Put a small breeze into the equation and a fire can turn into something very big in no time at all, as we saw in Dodworth. Officers from the town’s stations know where the worst-hit areas are so we’ll also be increasing patrols there to deter further fires to go alongside the education package delivered within schools.”
Coun Chris Lamb, cabinet spokesman for environment and transport, said:
“Grass-growing season is currently at its peak and the service is working hard to ensure standards are maintained across the borough for our residents and communities to enjoy. On average, grass plots belonging to the council are being maintained within 21 working days.
“As part of the new operating model, the service will soon roll out the use of in-cab and mobilisation technology which will detail daily cutting schedules and directly forward customer reports straight to operational teams, making the service more responsive to customer needs in line with the revised service standard.
“This new way of operating will modernise our working practices and improve the service for our residents. Our new processes will make sure we are efficient and sustainable as a service and help us ensure grass is cut within the improved service standard of 21 working days.
“Customer feedback will be vital throughout the changes to help us deliver the right service in the right place at the right time.”
Anyone with information about people starting fires in their area should call police on 101 or 999 for emergencies.