Fire chiefs condemn young arsonists

Peter WalshNorfolk fire chiefs have today condemned the actions of young arsonists who have been putting people's lives at risk - and wasting firefighters' time - by repeatedly setting fire to a woodland area in Norwich.Peter Walsh

Norfolk fire chiefs have today condemned the actions of young arsonists who have been putting people's lives at risk - and wasting firefighters' time - by repeatedly setting fire to a woodland area in Norwich.

Fire crews have been called to the woods off Woodside Road, in Sprowston, Norwich, at least seven times in just over two weeks after vandals set light to trees and bushes.

Bosses at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, who were called out again to the spot on Tuesday night, said the actions of the youths could have serious consequences for others.

Richard Herrell, group manager at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: 'Since March 28 we have been called to the woods near Woodside Road seven times to deliberate fires.

'On each occasion this has tied up our valuable resources and time meaning our crews have been unavailable to deal with genuine emergencies. This behaviour might seem like a prank or a laugh to those involved but believe me, fire has a habit of getting out of control. I would strongly condemn deliberate fire setting in any form and we will work closely with the local Safer Neighbourhood Team to deal with this issue.'

Last month the Evening News reported how teenage arsonists are being forced to face the error of their ways as part of a pioneering scheme to cut arson in the city.

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There were 60 attacks on buildings cars sheds and bins in the second quarter of last year but this fell to 32 in the following three months after fire chiefs set about tackling the problem in a partnership with police safer neighbourhood teams in Heartsease and Thorpe Hamlet.

While serious offences were dealt with by the courts fire chiefs also worked on a 'restorative justice' approach which meant that officers sat down with low level offenders and talked through the potential consequences of their actions. The fire service also has its own arson reduction officer Dave Farrow, an ex policeman who had previously worked successfully in Thetford to help get arson attacks down by helping spot potential targets.

While the scheme appears to be working, people living near to the trouble spot are concerned that if the culprits are not stopped there could be serious repercussions.

Lisa Hewett, 41, a finance clerk for the county council who lives near to the woods on Woodside Road with husband Nick, 43, and children Natasha, 15, and Connor, 13, said: 'We've had it last year and the year before, but nothing like this. It's just a waste of fire brigade resources.'

Mrs Hewett's daughter, a pupil at Sprowston High School, said the latest attack happened just yesterdaywhile a fire the previous eveningtook firefighters' about 45 minutes to put out.

She said: said: 'I would like to thank Sprowston fire crew for attending these fires within minutes. They've been called out several times to put out the fires lit deliberately. This time could be used on saving someone else's life.

'We're getting fed up and they're endangering lives. I think now they've done in there where are they going to go next? Other people's garages or fences? We're just waiting - it's going to happen again.'

Alan Waters, a Norwich City councillor for Crome ward, which includes Woodside Road, has also condemned the 'dangerous' actions of the culprits.

He warned that those people starting the fires were endangering both the public and themselves.

'The people who are doing this are endangering their own lives and also damaging an important woodland area,' he said.

'Fires of this kind can divert vital resources from potentially more serious incidents.'

There was an increase in fires in the county between 2006/07 and 2005/06 with more than 80 deliberately started fires, costing the fire service about �32,000 to tackle.

But last year a report to the county council's fire and community protection overview and scrutiny panel showed that the number of arson incidents had nearly halved in the past six years. Figures showed 1,622 incidents in 2008/09 compared to 2,713 in 2002/03 when the fire service launched a campaign to slash the number of attacks.

Has your life been endangered by arsonists? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email