LAST year’s ‘unprecedented’ summer of deliberate grassland fires has not been repeated in 2019 due to a multi-agency reduction scheme carried out in Barnsley’s worst-hit areas, fire chiefs have said.

Last summer 257 deliberate fires predominantly started on fields across the borough were recorded by the fire service who at the time labelled it as the ‘worst ever’ period for dealing with grassland blazes.

It prompted more a specialised project to be formed by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, police and council teams which resulted in Barnsley’s four fire stations each being responsible for targeting youngsters who were blamed for last summer’s spike in their area.

According to figures obtained by the Chronicle, there were 86 call-outs to deliberate grassland fires during this year’s summer holiday period from the end of July to the beginning of September a reduction of more than 60 per cent.

Station manager Matt Gillatt said: “Clearly a repeat of last summer’s incidents was something we were keen to avoid so a lot of work was done in the run-up to the school holiday period.

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“During last July and August in particular, the problem was exacerbated by the weather as there was very little rain and prolonged spells of hot, dry periods which made fields extremely susceptible to fire.

“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.

“This year we’ve worked alongside the police and council in particular, as they’re often the ones who receive many reports at local crime meetings held across Barnsley.

“We now have four district officers working together with the two organisations and that’s been beneficial as it’s much easier to talk to a colleague over a desk that’s what’s happened and it’s allowed us to be much more reactive.

“While we went into schools before the summer holidays started, we’ve been paying constant attention to last year’s worst-affected locations by way of patrols and we’ve also visited community centres throughout.

“The reduction is the result of a concerted effort to tackle what happened last summer and we see it as a positive step forward.”

The reduction scheme is due to be discussed by the South Yorkshire Fire Authority, whose members will meet at Barnsley Town Hall on Monday.

A spokesman from SYFR added: “Deliberate fires across Barnsley have fallen significantly over the last ten years, although incident numbers do vary year-on-year, often as a result of factors outside of our control, like the weather.

“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.”