Calls for more grass fire prosecutions ahead of summit

Fire in Ynyshir, Rhondda Cynon Taff Image copyright @JohnBulin59/Twitter
Image caption John Bulpin captured this image from his microlight aircraft of a fire in Ynyshir, Rhondda Cynon Taff

A fire crime chief says more prosecutions are needed to stop people starting grass fires for fun.

The Welsh government has held a summit on the topic after fire crews in south Wales tackled 900 blazes in March and April.

Suspected fire starters, some as young as 11, have been arrested for deliberately sparking fires which have reduced vast swathes of land to ash.

Crimestoppers has offered £5,000 for information on a series of attacks.

The fires were lit across Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr.

Image copyright Kayle Garkut
Image caption A blaze which was deliberately started in Machen, Caerphilly

South Wales Fire Service's fire crime unit station manager Emma Bushell said: "It's definitely not risk-free fun, because of the risks to the community, to wild life and to flora and fauna.

"It could have a catastrophic effect for people in the community."

Ms Bushell said the service had received more than 8,000 calls in March and April - the third largest amount it has handled for this period in 15 years.

However, she added: "In reality, it is not any worse that it was in previous years."

This year's 900 reported grass fires incidents is more than the 580 reported in 2014, but less than 2,500 in 2010 and 1,700 in 2011.

"It's a historic problem in Wales that people have always started grass fires. People are used to seeing the area black at this time of the year and the community has never really got up in arms about it," Ms Bushell added.

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Media captionThe Welsh government is hosting a summit over grassfires in Wales

"It seems, because of the media coverage and the social media coverage this year, the community is actually saying, 'We want this to stop', which is brilliant."

Ms Bushell said it was more important than ever the public reported fire starters and gave evidence, such as CCTV footage, to the police to make sure they were brought to book.

This year's fires have been exacerbated by a lack of rain and the build up of bracken and foliage which has not been burnt in previous, wetter years.

'More prosecutions'

Such blazes are a UK-wide problem, but Ms Bushell said the south Wales valleys, with their easily accessible mountains, were particularly prone.

She said fire service efforts to educate people about the dangers of grass fires were not enough, adding: "We need to see more prosecutions."

"People have traditionally said it's young kids but in my experience it's not," she added, pointing out that adults as old as 35 had been arrested over the latest slew of alleged offences.

Image copyright Jon Goodall
Image caption Firefighters were called to tackle a blaze in Newport on 20 April

"I know that our chief fire officer is keen to get involved in some work profiling the people being caught so that we can target out education and awareness [campaigns]," she added.

On Tuesday, representatives from Rhondda Cynon Taf council, South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Natural Resources Wales met to discuss the problem.

Leader of the Council, Andrew Morgan, said: "The number and frequency of the recent grass fires has been shocking and simply cannot continue.

"We have been fortunate so far that no-one has been seriously injured as a result of these mindless acts, and this meeting pulled together a number of constructive and positive actions to tackle this issue."

Image caption A fire at Godre'r Graig, between Pontardawe and Ystalyfera, on 21 April

Huw Jakeway, chief fire officer for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Deliberate grass fires are an act of arson, which is a serious crime, and we work closely with both police services to bring those responsible to justice."

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