STAFFORDSHIRE Fire and Rescue Service is asking the public to be extra vigilant after hundreds of acres of countryside have been damaged by fires.
The plea comes after figures show a significant increase in fires out in the open this year compared to last year.
The number of deliberate grass and rubbish fires in Staffordshire has more than quadrupled during the first three weeks of the school holidays (between July 20 and August 12, 2018) compared to the same period last year. The Service saw 414 fires, 323 of which were deliberate, compared to 79 in the same period of 2017, of which 64 were started on purpose.
With more of the county’s countryside at risk during the continued period of hot weather, the Service is asking residents to keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviour and to call the police if they spot anyone that could be starting fires.
Director of Prevent and Protect Glynn Luznyj said: “It is really sad to see so much of our countryside devastated by these fires, many of which are deliberate.
“These fires not only ruin beauty spots where families want to spend their time with their children but also put the wildlife at risk.
“Please help up to educate young children of the dangers and consequences of setting fires and keep an eye out for potential fire starters. If you see any risk or sign of fire, call the fire service right away.
“We have been tackling a large scale fire in the Roaches in the last few days and although we do not know the cause yet we are not ruling out arson. This fire alone has involved approximately 200 acres of land- that is the equivalent of 100 football pitches! We don’t want to lose any more of the countryside or endanger any more wildlife.
“This is why our Flames Aren’t Games campaign is so important and we really hope members of the public will get involved to help us raise awareness and prevent more of these fires from happening.”
As part of the campaign the Service has asked young people to sign a pledge not to start fires deliberately. So far there have been 276 pledges made.
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Jeff Sim said: “The bleakness of upland areas like the Roaches masks a landscape rich in wildlife which depends on the plants and conditions living there. Plants such as heather, cotton grass and bilberry which thrive on the ancient 9,000-year-old peatland support a wealth of birdlife such as snipe, curlew and meadow pipit.
“Fortunately at the Roaches the majority of the birds were not sitting on eggs due to the time of year, but some fledglings may well have been caught up in the fire. Slower moving wildlife, particularly lizards, frogs and toads may also have perished. Insects vital in the food chain will also have died.
“Upland fires have a longer-lasting damage to the environment. In addition to the devastating heat, burning peat releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
“To restore the uplands and protect them against wildfires in the future, at the Roaches, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has started blocking the drainage ditches of the 20th Century, rewetting the moors to protect the fragile peatland and blanket bogs.“