Arson attack threat highlighted in report

Every four hours someone in Lancashire starts a blaze which puts lives and property at risk.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 6th May 2015, 6:30 am
Four people were killed in a fire at a property on Lytham Road in Freckleton
Four people were killed in a fire at a property on Lytham Road in Freckleton

The latest statistics released by the county’s fire brigade show a staggering 1,536 arson attacks were dealt with in the nine months up to December 31 – almost six incidents a day.

And, although the overall numbers were down on the same period in 2013, deliberate fires in domestic property rose by 10 per cent.

The brigade’s performance survey shows 108 dwellings were targeted by firebugs between April 1 and New Year’s Eve. Figures for the final quarter of 2014/15 are due out in June.

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“There is a steady stream of cases going before the courts and, in many cases, they result in custodial sentences because there is always that threat to life,” said a spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

“Rest assured the fire service will support, along with the police, the prosecution of people who start fires.”

Deliberate fires were down 33 per cent in total from 2,297 to 1,536 in the first three quarters of the year.

But all of that reduction came in outdoor “secondary” incidents like grassland, wheelie bin and rubbish blazes.

Attacks on dwellings went up from 98 to 108. Fires started in non-dwelling premises stayed constant at 107.

The performance figures also showed the total number of call-outs in Lancashire – fires, accidents, rescues and false alarms – topped the 10,000 mark.

Although that was down by seven per cent on the equivalent period in 2013/14, it still averaged 38 emergencies a day.

House fires classed as accidental, or of unknown origin, were also down, with 669 compared with 764 the previous year.

Two people died in accidental dwelling fires in those nine months compared to three the previous year. Twelve others were treated for serious injuries and 29 went to hospital with slight injuries. Overall casualty figures were slightly reduced from 48 to 43.

The report also showed the brigade hit its response target – the time taken for the first engine to arrive at the scene of an emergency – in 87 per cent of incidents.

“This week is Arson Awareness Week and it is a good time to highlight what we are doing to try and reduce the incidents we deal with in Lancashire,” said the brigade spokesman.

“Deliberately starting a fire is a crime and although the overall number of incidents are falling, they can still cause untold misery to those they affect.

“Lancashire Fire and Rescue investigate all fires they attend and, where necessary, work alongside police and the courts to ensure that arsonists are brought to account.

“It isn’t just someone setting fire to a property that can cause a threat to life. If someone torches a wheelie bin, for instance, that can have devastating results and cost lives. Fire develops and spreads.

“We are constantly trying to educate young people in particular about the dangers of fire and we have to draw the distinction between someone starting a blaze wanting to destroy property and a curiosity with fire that children seem to have.”

Case studies

Villagers in Freckleton know only too well the devastating outcome of arson.

Four brothers and sisters lost their lives when a teenager deliberately started a blaze in a wardrobe at their family bungalow in Lytham Road in January 2012.

Dyson Allen, 19, denied murder, but was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter after a jury decided he started the fire inches away from where the children were sleeping. He was jailed for life.

Four-year-old twins Holly and Ella Smith, their two-year-old brother Jordan and eldest sibling Reece, 19, all perished in the fire.

It isn’t just human life that is put at risk by firebugs.

Wildlife experts have warned of the “devastating” effect on animals and birds caused by deliberate or accidental blazes on grasslands across Lancashire.

A series of blazes over the past two months have destroyed large areas of moorland, causing untold damage to the habitat of creatures who live there and reducing the fire cover in urban areas.

A brigade spokesman said: “When we are up on moorlands tackling these fires we are unavailable for any serious incidents which may happen. Deliberate fires can cost lives and put enormous strain on fire service resources that may be required elsewhere.”

Four men who firebombed a house in Preston while a family slept inside were jailed for a total of 18 years.

The arsonists, aged between 20 and 27, attacked the house in Kennington Road, Fulwood, at the dead of night last year, torching two cars parked outside .

The flames spread to the front of the property and the family were lucky to escape through the backdoor as fire crews fought the blaze.

All four men pleaded guilty to arson endangering life and were sent to prison for between four and six years each.

Hero Chorley firefighter Steve Morris suffered horrific burns when he tried to rescue a grandmother and her granddaughter from a fire which had been started deliberately.

The 42-year-old suffered 50 per cent burns and was left fighting for his life following the blaze in Bolton in 2008.

Steve spent nine months in hospital and had to have parts of both hands amputated.

The blaze, which was later ruled to be arson, claimed the lives of 71-year-old Hameeda Begum and her four-year-old grandchild Alana Mian. No-one has ever been arrested for starting it.