Top fire officer urges community to shop Brecon Beacon grass fire starters

Top fire officer urges community to shop Brecon Beacon grass fire starters

22 April 2011

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United Kingdom — A top fire officer launched a scathing attack yesterday on communities who don’t report those responsible for setting the grass fires plaguing much of the country.

South Wales Fire and Rescue divisional officer Mick Flanagan – who has responsibility for community safety – said communities needed to “take ownership” of their areas to tackle the “absolutely unacceptable” spread of the problem.

His comments come after another mountain fire raged across more than 1,200 acres of pristine heathland in the southern part of the Brecon Beacons near Penderyn yesterday.

Firefighters with four engines spent seven hours from about 9am battling the blaze, which was being fanned by strong winds and was suspected to have been started deliberately.

Firefighters also had to tackle fires in the Christ-church Road area of Newport, on the Treherbert side of Rhigos Mountain, several in the Merthyr Tydfil area and another near Castell Coch.

South Wales Fire & Rescue have so far dealt with 1,160 grass fires this year, with 749 in March and 351 so far in April.

Mr Flanagan said that the Penderyn blaze – which needed four fire engines to put out – was symptomatic of a wider problem.

“Today’s fire needed four fire engines – which then were not available for house fires or accidents,” he said.

“These are young people who are setting fires thinking it is funny, and it is not – somebody is going to die. Somebody will be killed sooner or later as a result of this.

“I see firefighters coming in off shifts and they are absolutely exhausted – and it not on. It is absolutely wrong.”

He added: “There has been a big emphasis and push on education, and how much more have we got to do before people get the message? And they are not getting the message. It is a serious issue.

“We are doing our best but communities need to start now to look at themselves – to do their bit, and I don’t think they are at the moment.

“We need members of the community to take some ownership of their localities and report these people if you know who it is.”

It comes after a group of 10 children, aged between 13 and 16, had to be ushered off a mountain in Rhondda Cynon Taf on Wednesday due to an approaching mountain fire while they were on a trip designed to educate people on the dangers of the fires.

Mr Flanagan added: “Even though the children were enjoying themselves, it was cut short, as the mountain was on fire and we were advised to come down, because of a deliberately-started fire.

“We know that we will eventually catch these young people – but we need the local community to take this with the degree of seriousness that it deserves, because it is costing the country millions of pounds every year.

“The local community has got some responsibility, because they are not reporting these fires to the police or Crimestoppers. Neighbours often say to us ‘We know who did this’, but they don’t report these people.

“We cannot do this on our own and we need the community to come forward and tell us about this.”

Peter Ogden, director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, pointed to devastating woodland fires in Snowdonia two weeks ago.

He said: “When you think of the huge effort to manage these areas for the scenic qualities they have, and for nature conservation, it is years worth of effort going up in flames.

“It is not just the destruction of beautiful areas that these ‘bad habits’ cause, but an incredible waste of effort to conserve these areas for nature and wildlife purposes. The situation is extremely regrettable.”

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