STRETCHED fire crews who have dealt with more than 1,000 deliberate arson attacks in Barnsley over the last three summers - prompting an urgent action plan to be launched in a bid to solve the issue - have hailed a dramatic fall in call-outs.
The four-month period from May to August - typically South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s busiest time of year - saw 307 incidents recorded this summer.
It is a 15 per cent reduction on the previous year’s statistics, when 363 call-outs were attributed to arson.
A public space protection order (PSPO) - which now protects Barnsley and its outlying areas such as Dunford Bridge where high-profile grassland blazes have occurred in consecutive years - focuses on preventing deliberate fire-starting in public places such as parks and moorland.
As well as this, fire bosses in South Yorkshire launched a new service - FireStoppers - which allows members of the public to anonymously report information on deliberate fire-setting through a dedicated phone number or online.
A spokesperson said: “It’s early days but we launched our new FireStoppers campaign in May this year, which was quite a big thing for us, and so far it appears to have worked well.
“We put lots of effort in to trying to stamp out arson attacks and it is great to see that what we are doing is having the desired effect in reducing incident numbers.
“However, there is always more work to do as one deliberate fire is one too many.
“We want to show people we are taking this issue seriously and we also felt we needed to provide people a safe, anonymous route to report details of arson attacks to us.
“Our hope is that this initiative will help reduce call-outs, protect public property and keep people safe - as well as having environmental benefits, too.”
Anyone caught flouting the PSPO - which is in place for a minimum of three years - will be given on-the-spot £100 fines or face prosecution through the court system if they opt against paying.( There are exemptions for private residential areas but any land that has a public right of way or public access is included in the scheme.
Matt Gillatt, deputy head of the joint police and fire community safety team in Barnsley, added: “This may come as a surprise to some, but deliberate fires are among the most common types of incident that our firefighters attend, yet they are often entirely needless.
“We put lots of effort in to trying to stamp out arson attacks and it is great to see that what we are doing - a combination of our new FireStoppers service and work from our community safety staff and operational crews - is having the desired effect in reducing incident numbers.
“Deliberate fire-setting not only endangers life and wastes our time, it can also massively destroy local parks, facilities and landscapes, so I would really encourage people to keep using our FireStoppers service to help us help you.”
* You can report information about deliberate fires to FireStoppers by calling 0800 169 5558 or visiting firestoppersreport.co.uk.