FIREFIGHTERS in South Yorkshire fear a surge in potentially-deadly arson attacks over the school holidays - after tackling double their usual number of deliberately-started blazes.
In just one 48-hour period crews were called to 43 fires started by arsonists - 18 in Sheffield, five in Rotherham, eight in Barnsley and 14 in Doncaster.
The average daily number of arson attacks county-wide is 11.
In the most serious incident at the weekend, the door of a family home in Sheffield was set on fire in the early hours of the morning, filling the house with smoke.
Neighbours said the residents, who were away, could have been killed had they been in the property.
With the six-week school holidays looming, firefighters now fear the sudden spike in incidents could be just the start of a spate of deliberately-started blazes.
Today brigade bosses urged parents to keep a closer eye on their children - and warned bored youngsters that lighting fires ‘for fun’ can have tragic consequences.
“This is a massive, costly problem and is putting people’s lives at risk every day,” said head of community safety, Steve Makepeace.
“Dealing with small fires means fire engines may not be available to respond to emergencies which threaten lives.
“Small fires, such as grass and bin fires, are not harmless fun.
“They can quickly escalate, threatening life and property, as well as diverting firefighting resources from potentially more serious incidents.”
Arson attacks already account for half of all South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s call outs every year.
Last Thursday firefighters raced to 21 - and the day before they battled 22.
And the number of arson attacks over the weekend remained above average, with 25 deliberate fires around South Yorkshire in the period from Friday evening to yesterday.
Fire chiefs are urging anyone with information about arson attacks to call the police or Crimestoppers, so offenders can be identified and action taken.
And they are urging residents to do all they can to reduce the temptation for firebugs.
“With the weather staying warm and the school summer holidays round the corner, we’re asking residents to take basic precautions to reduce their own risk of arson, and to report fire-setters in their area,” said Mr Makepeace.
“Residents should put wheelie bins out early on the morning of collection rather than the night before, take bins from the kerbside as soon as possible after collection, be careful not to overfill bins and to make sure they will close, and store rubbish away from buildings but within the boundary of their property.”
He added: “People starting fires maliciously can have no appreciation of the potential consequences of their actions.
“We’ve had tragedies before in South Yorkshire where people have died, either as a result of a small fire getting out of control, or because our fire engines were busy elsewhere dealing with one of these incidents.”
Pauline West, former chair of Firshill Tenants’ and Residents’ Association and a member of Sheffield Homes board, said: “I am appalled by these figures. People today and, in may respects, the youth of today, seem to have no respect for themselves, for other people’s property, for anything.
“There are a lot of young people doing good things and I take my hat off to them, but a number are causing carnage and mayhem.
“A lot of the incidents of arson are happening around the city’s estates where I know Sheffield Homes is trying to work with youths to get them to see this sort of thing isn’t on. I also speak to them if I see youths throwing rubbish or matches around and tick them off but too many people are frightened to challenge them.
“People need to stand up and be counted and make these youths know their behaviour won’t be tolerated.”
n Call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s website - www.syfire.gov.uk - to suggest potential arson risks, including piles of rubbish or fly-tipped waste.
n Thursday: among the 43 incidents was grass set alight at Sheffield Ski Village, a derelict house set on fire on Main Street, Goldthorpe, Barnsley, a bin set on fire on playing fields on Field View, Brinsworth, Rotherham, and grassland burning on Greens Road, Dunsville, Doncaster.
n Friday: grass fires at Longstone Crescent, Frecheville; Balby Road, Doncaster; Boston Castle Grove, Moorgate, Rotherham; Wensley Road, New Lodge, Barnsley; Churchfield Road, Campsall, Doncaster; Pye Avenue, Mapplewell; rubbish was set alight in Kendray and a bin was set ablaze in Halsall Avenue, Darnall, Sheffield.
n Saturday: trees were set on fire on Ben Lane, Wisewood, and Garden Walk, Whiston, a skip at Queens Road, Highfield, and grass near allotments on Penrith Road, Longley, at Greenfield Lane, Balby, Doncaster, and Armthorpe Road, Wheatley Hills.
Rubbish was also set on fire in Wakefield Road, Staincross, and Rowms Lane, Swinton, an old mattress was set alight in North Royds Wood, Athersley North, and a Volkswagen Polo car on Bond Street, Rossington.
n Sunday: fires included the door of a house on Jenkin Avenue, Wincobank, Sheffield, a ‘For Sale’ sign on Highgate Lane, Goldthorpe, a railway sleeper on Fairleigh, Manor, rubbish at Crookes Lane, Carlton, Barnsley, and a commercial wheelie bin at Minney Moor Lane, Conisbrough.