“MORON” arsonists are destroying a nature reserve in South Tyneside.
Boldon Nature Reserve, which runs from Brockley Whins and Biddick Hall to Boldon Colliery and is known locally as The Burn, has been repeatedly targeted by vandals.
Large areas of the land has been destroyed by a number of blazes, with firefighters saying there has been a “significant increase” in the number of call-outs to grass fires compared to the same period last year.
Between March 1 and March 18 this year, a total of 47 deliberate fires were reported in South Tyneside.
Of those, 24 were grass fires – more then one a day – at a cost of almost £50,000 .
For all 47 fires, this figure rises to just under £95,000. An average nuisance fire call-out costs Tyne and Wear Fire Rescue Service £2,000.
It is not just the cost which has angered both residents and firefighters, but also risk to the lives of the people of South Tyneside and to local wildlife.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service crew manager Nicole Mordecai said: “These type of fires may seem like harmless fun but they can prove to be deadly. They can spread extremely quickly, causing severe damage to property, land and wildlife, and can also cause injuries or even death.
“They also tie up valuable life-saving resources because, if crews are dealing with these types of fires, it prevents them from attending incidents where lives could be at risk.”
A number of areas have been highlighted as hotspots, with patrols from South Tyneside Homes anti-social behaviour unit and police being stepped up.
One dog walker who frequents the nature reserve said: “It is every year fires are being started – but this time it is really bad. Huge amounts of the grass are being burned.
“It was only the other day while out walking with a friend we came across a fire that had been started. He was able to put it out with his feet.
“Every day you come out you see fresh pieces of grass that have been burned. But it’s not just the damage it is causing to the land, it’s the wildlife it’s destroying – one of the fires was set right next to a field where there were horses. It’s just moronic behaviour.
“I just don’t think these people realise just what they are doing. It’s a nature reserve and they are killing the wildlife.”
Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for area management and community safety on South Tyneside Council, said: “Between March this year and March 2014, there were 228 fewer anti-social fires in the borough compared with the same period the previous year – a reduction of more than 43 per cent.
“We traditionally see a seasonal increase in the number of anti-social fires around this time of year, which is exactly why we and our partners run the Lighter Nights campaign, which tackles anti-social behaviour such as criminal damage, underage drinking, wheelie bin fires, rubbish and grass fires.
“As well as providing diversionary activities, the campaign features increased patrols and walkabouts to educate children and young people on the dangers and consequences relating to deliberate fires and anti-social behaviour.
“When hotspot areas are identified we adopt a proactive approach and ensure a heavier visible Community Warden presence targeting those areas with foot and vehicle patrols.
“This usually results in a very rapid reduction of incidents.”
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