Crews battle deliberately started grass fires

Crews battle deliberately started grass fires

04 May 2011

published by www.walesonline.co.uk


United Kingdom — AS fire roars through picturesque heathland in the heart of the Valleys, a helicopter and ground firefighters are desperately trying to douse the blaze to stop it in its tracks.

The familiar scene yesterday – in the Cwmsaerbren Mountain area of Treherbert – came as four fire engines battled deliberate fires that spread around the entire area of the town.

South Wales Fire and Rescue said yesterday that its officers would be battling to subdue the blaze for “days, rather than hours”, and emergency crews are being brought in from England to help tackle the multitude of grass fires started in the Valleys.

A staggering 1,642 grass and mountain fires have been reported in the period between February 1 until May 2 and the problem – made worse by the dry, hot spring – is estimated to cost South Wales £38m.

Last month was the hottest April on record in England and Wales. Rainfall was just 21% of the expected levels, and the average temperature was the hottest since records began 353 years ago.

Rhondda Cynon Taf was described by South Wales Fire and Rescue fire safety officer Nick Flanagan as “by far the worst” for deliberate fires, with 251 separate incidents in April alone, with Caerphilly next on 142.

Over one 24-hour period from Monday to Tuesday, crews from Cefn Fforest fire station spent just minutes back at their station after being called to one grass fire after another throughout the county.

Mr Flanagan described the situation as “scandalous” and urged parents and residents to shop young people who go out of their way to set fires deliberately.

He said: “We can deal with the fires, we go to them, but I don’t think people appreciate what that actually means for the service – it’s a big issue.

“All of these incidents are arson, every one of them are set deliberately, but we’ve done research into this and local people seem to have the idea that ‘well, you have the fire engines, you can deal with them’. They just aren’t taking it seriously.

“These young people – and it’s always young people – are going by motorbikes to get from location to location to set fires so we cannot keep up.

“It is an absolute scandal and it brings shame on communities in what are nice areas to live. There are people that are trying to make their communities a better place to live and there is this minority of teenagers and young people in their 20s who are intent on vandalism.”

He said the spike in deliberate fires was leaving the service exposed and unable to go to other emergencies. They could not train the service firefighters and the job was made harder due to a heightened state of alert for the service after Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan.

The sheer scale of the grass fire operation was apparent in recent operations by South Wales Fire and Rescue.

Full and part-time crews attended a fire at a forestry in Wattsville, between Blackwood and Risca, on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. The blaze destroyed around 10 hectares of wood and grassland along with scores of wildlife – including rabbits, voles and hedgehogs.

They were then called to another grass fire at Edwardsville near Quakers Yard in between Merthyr Tydfil and Ystrad Mynach.

When night crews took over they were called back to the village of Wattsville to join crews from Cardiff and Avon which had been drafted in to help tackle a massive blaze just a few hundred yards from where arsonists had set the first fire in the afternoon.

Tony Evans, crew manager of blue watch who attended some of the fires, said fire appliances were being brought in from as far afield as Avon.

He said the arsonists starting the fires were aware they were putting their and other people’s lives in danger.

He said: “I think they do realise it, especially when we come down from a fire and see smoke further up the valley – our hearts sink.

“It’s not just resources but the wildlife such as rabbits, voles and hedgehogs which are killed and at this time of year birds are nesting so they are destroyed as the fire burns a 50 foot tree from top to bottom very quickly.”

A spokesperson for the Forestry Commission Wales said: “Most forest fires are started deliberately and obviously they have repercussions as fire fighters cannot respond to other emergencies.

“These fires cause tremendous damage to the forest ecosystem, endanger wildlife and create a very negative image of South Wales for tourists.”


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