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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Teenagers arrested in west Cumbrian arson investigation

Firefighters have been called out to more than 30 deliberate grass and rubbish fires since the schools broke up for the Easter holidays.

Four teenage boys, two aged 16, and the others 15 and 14 from the Workington area, were arrested yesterday on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

None have been charged. The 14-year-old was bailed until May 2 and the other three were reported for summons while investigations continue.

The alarming number of fires thought to have been caused by children across north and west Cumbria has led to a joint fire and police operation.

Six of the grass and gorse fires were yesterday afternoon between 1.40pm and 3.45pm in Maryport, Cleator Moor, Distington, the former Royal Navy dump at Broughton Moor and Lowther, near Penrith.

At Broughton Moor, a crew dealt with 800sq m of grass and gorse using beaters, back packs, a hose reel and cutting gear.

Watch manager Colin Wilson said: “The weather conditions are perfect at the moment. It’s windy, sunny and dry.”

Adrian Holme, group manager at Cumbria Fire and Rescue, said that it was “highly likely” that the fires were linked to the school holidays and dry conditions in the county over the past few days.

“It is very worrying and I’m appealing for anyone with information to get in touch with the police,” he said. “Until the schools go back and the weather breaks we will be doing whatever we can to halt these fires.”

One of the ways the problem will be tackled is to increase police patrols in trouble-spot areas. In west Cumbria there have been 30 fires involving grass, skips, fences and wheelie bins in Workington, Whitehaven, Maryport, Gosforth and Frizington.

Bruce Wilson, station manager at Maryport, Silloth and Aspatria fire stations, said: “A small grass or gorse fire can rapidly spread and get out of control, putting property and even lives in danger.

“We’ve seen in Scotland over the past few days just how large and destructive these types of blazes can be so I’d urge people of all ages to be vigilant about the dangers and to avoid lighting nuisance fires.

“Playing with fire is never harmless fun and it easily has the potential to turn to tragedy.”

Kevin Johnston, station manager at Whitehaven, Egremont, Seascale and Frizington, said: “We work closely with the police and will seek to identify and prosecute anybody involved in lighting fires of this nature.

“Parents and carers need to be aware – and make sure their children know – that grass and gorse fires can quickly trap the person lighting them, especially if there’s a rapid change in wind direction.

“Being repeatedly called out to these incidents also means we could be diverted away from more serious situations like road traffic collisions and larger blazes with possibly deadly consequences.”

In the Carlisle area, fire crews have also been inundated with call-outs to fires at Hebden Avenue, Hassell Street, Rome Street and Hillcrest Road at Caldewlees.

Mr Holme stressed that arsonists were putting lives at risk, because when crews deal with grass and similar fires, they were not dealing with other incidents.

There was an incident last Thursday, the day the schools broke up, when 10 appliances from across the county were dealing with a major fire at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway and there was a call-out to a grass fire at Cleator Moor. This led to a crew from Maryport attending the Cleator Moor fire as all of the others were involved in the major incident.

Firefighters in Carlisle have been holding activity sessions for youngsters.

Craig Drinkald, station manager at Carlisle West Fire Station, said: “Lighter evenings combined with a lack of engaging activity for young people can sometimes lead to fires being seen as a fun way to pass some time.

“However, it’s not fun for the fire crews and it can have potentially fatal consequences.”

The next activity session will be held at Brampton fire station tomorrow.

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