IT’S only a ‘matter of time’ before a life is lost as gangs of up to 50 vandals continue to set numerous blazes every night, according to whistleblowers who have urged police to take immediate action before it’s too late.
Kendray has long been an area of concern for firefighters as deliberate blazes have caused havoc and fear for residents.
The village has been hit by rising numbers of fires reportedly started by gangs of dozens of youths who congregate at the park on Farm Road - with residents reporting three call-outs on Sunday alone.
Those residents - on Farm Road and nearby Broom Close - told the Chronicle they’re ‘scared to leave their homes’ after a spike in antisocial behaviour which last month saw a huge blaze feet away.
One of those residents, 50-year-old Kay Thewlis, believes if the trend continues it won’t be long until someone is seriously injured or potentially dies.
She told the Chronicle: “I’ve been here for nine years and this is definitely the worst it’s been.
“My husband has lived in Kendray for the last 40 years and even he says it’s never been as bad.
“For the last six weeks to eight months it’s been absolutely horrendous.”
Kay’s husband has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and so it has become impossible for them to move whilst he is undergoing treatment - but she says her neighbours have already to started to leave the area.
“The pressures are enormous at the minute because my husband has prostate cancer,” she said.
“With all the fires being started it’s only making him feel worse.
“Some of our neighbours are already moving and at least five on this street have lived here since the houses were built.”
One fire earlier this month has caused such distress in her family that her young granddaughter is now scared to come to their family home.
“We just don’t know how bad it’s going to get - it’s terrifying,” she added.
“My granddaughter doesn’t want to come to the house anymore because of what’s happening.
“We opened the curtains and the hedge was completely up in flames and she just screamed.
“She screamed the house down until she was physically sick.
“The fire engines were here three times on Sunday but it’s happening every night - it’s like they’re desperate to try and get Broom Close down.
“They’ve already set fire to the old caretaker’s building on Cypress Road.
“They’re young and in massive gangs - we’ve seen them throw stones at the fire brigade and the police.
“They’ve gone from setting fire to hedges to empty buildings - what’s next?
“Someone will lose their life or be seriously injured but they just don’t care.”
Craig Huxley, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s watch manager covering Barnsley, said the continued incidents are ‘extremely frustrating and not acceptable on any level’.
“First and foremost, when our crews are dealing with a deliberate fire, they aren’t available to attend another more serious incident,” added Craig, who also works within the service’s community safety team.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that our response to another incident will be compromised, as we have a good level of fire cover across South Yorkshire, but it means our response will be potentially slower.
“And, even then, there is a knock-on effect to taking fire engines from other nearby areas to cover for what was a needless call out.
“There’s then the financial cost of these incidents.
“All in all, deliberate fires cost money and destroy communities.”
Fire bosses confirmed they are working closely with South Yorkshire Police to bring those responsible to justice.
In Kendray last year, there were ten call-outs for deliberate secondary fires - involving grassland or rubbish - and 22 logged in neighbouring Ardsley and Stairfoot.
However, figures are expected to rise sharply for 2022 given the recent spate.
Watch manager Craig Huxley added: “Fire spreads quickly so when people set what they think is a small fire for a laugh, they perhaps don’t realise that a small fire can very quickly become a big one.
“Lots of the incidents we attend involve a fire starting in a bush, for example, but then spreading to fences, sheds and even houses.
“Lastly is the obvious and immediate risk to people.
“Fire kills, and even if it doesn’t spread, there is always the chance that a member of the public could get burnt, or worse.
“Our firefighters are only human, too, and whilst they are highly trained and have the best quality protective equipment, there is always a chance they could come to harm whilst dealing with these incidents.
“Our message to anyone considering it is don’t - we do take them seriously and work very close with our police colleagues to investigate and bring people to justice.”
People with any information on fire-starting are asked to call FireStoppers anonymously on 0800 169 5558.