Firefighters dealt with over 1,000 more arson incidents in the past year than in the previous one, shocking new figures have revealed.
The majority of these incidents involved fires in the open, such as bonfires and deliberate grass fires.
Classed as ‘secondary arsons’, these incidents accounted for almost a quarter of all the call-outs made by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service in the 2018/19 financial year.
Last year’s scorching summer was one of the main reasons for the rise, according to a fire chief.
The stark figures were discussed by West Yorkshire Fire Authority at its Annual General Meeting today, where members were told that a large amount of the blazes were probably started by children or young people.
A report into incidents dealt with by the fire service in the 12-month period revealed there were 7,735 incidents classed as arson across West Yorkshire. This was up from 6,714 the previous year.
The service had set a “target” figure to bring down arson incidents to 6,355, but the past year’s figures mean the force was 21.7 per cent above this.
Of the 7,735 arsons, 1,538 were classed as ‘primary arson’ – which involves damage to a building or vehicle. This was slightly up from 1,516 the previous year.
Secondary arson is a fire in the open, and can include rubbish or fly-tipping being burned, deliberate grass fires, and bins or street furniture being set on fire. Last year there were 6,197 such incidents – up from 5,198 the previous year.
The arson rise led to the total number of incidents dealt with by the fire service rising from 22,936 in 2017/18 to 25,675 in the past year. It meant the authority missed its target to bring total incidents down by 14.1 per cent.
While there has been a big rise compared to previous years, in both cases the figure was lower than 10 years ago. In 2008/09 there were 2,747 primary arsons and 8,842 secondary arsons.
Dave Walton, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, said the rise in secondary arsons was “significant.” He added: “There is certainly a corelation between the weather and secondary arson. Looking back at last year, at the start of the year we had the lowest rainfall levels for 50 years. Incidents hit their peak in July/August. Given it was the hottest summer on record we were never going to hit targets.”
He pointed out that February also had low rainfall, and this contributed to the major fire on Marsden Moor.
Councillor Lisa Holmes (Con, Liversedge and Gomersal) said: “I’m hearing about incidents where fires are being started outside, and people are saying the people involved are about 10 or 11. It is a bit young to be starting fires.”
She asked if most of the secondary arsons were started by children or young people.
Mr Walton replied: “We don’t always record the age of people starting the fires, because often the individuals who have started it aren’t around when we get there.
“The information we do have is fairly speculative, but we do hear that a lot of the secondary fires are carried out by children and young people. Not exclusively so however.”
He said the service did work with schools and community groups to try and communicate fire safety messages to young people, referring to a project by the crew of Killingbeck Fire Station that sees them work with a local youth project.
Councillor Karen Renshaw (Lab, Ardsley and Robin Hood) said: “Are we doing any work to deal with climate change? With the increasing number of arsons that are being helped by the warm weather, will climate change have an impact on the fire service’s ability to deal with such issues?”
Mr Walton said there was some debate about climate change, but added: “I am working on the basis that it’s happening. We’ve experienced floods, severe winters and wildfires. We’ll be looking at equipment training and the tactics we employ. It may be at a future stage we come back to members with more details of what we’re doing to change things.”