STAFFORDSHIRE Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is urging the public to take extra care when enjoying the countryside this summer following an alarming number of fires at beauty spots in the county.
With covid-19 restrictions limiting the leisure options available, people have been drawn to the county’s open spaces and the dry hot conditions over recent months have left everywhere tinder dry. This combination has sparked an increase of incidents.
Since March the Service has attended 715 incidents, 64 per cent of these (459) were started deliberately.
There have already been three separate large fires on Cannock Chase, one of which was started by a campfire, along with reports of wild campers lighting campfires on the Roaches. Luckily they were reported to rangers and extinguished before they spread.
As a result firefighters have this week launched a safety campaign to highlight just how easily fires can start.
The campaign Don’t be Blamed for the Flames launches aims to prevent more serious blazes devastating Staffordshire’s picturesque landscape. It also aims to deter would be fire setters from deliberately starting fires for fun.
The Service is working in partnership with local landowners, including Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, The National Trust and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to get the message out.
Banners and posters are being displayed at popular sites to make people think twice, along with free cigarette disposal pouches.
The Service will also use digital advertising through apps such as Spotify and TikTok, along with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share its message.
A dozen local shops near to the county’s beauty spots are also supporting the campaign by placing warning stickers on their stocks of disposable barbeques.
The launch of the campaign was marked by a large banner being hung from the main crag at The Roaches near Leek yesterday (Monday, June 22).
The spot was chosen in an attempt to prevent history repeating itself, as over 200 acres of land (over 100 football pitches) were damaged by a blaze in August 2018.
SFRS and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust joined forces with Buxton Mountain Rescue climbers who installed the banner, which features the campaigns warning message ‘It all started with a… BBQ. Campfire. Cigarette. Glass Bottle'.
Last year crews attended 1,529 fires outdoors, with some of the largest incidents caused by disposable barbecues. Shockingly, the majority (1,129) of outdoor fires last year were started deliberately.
SFRS Director of Community Safety Howard Watts said: “We need your help to stop these incidents from happening. These fires are down to human error - they don’t just start on their own and are usually caused by a barbeque, campfire, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass bottle left behind by someone.
“Our message is simple. Please don’t use barbecues or campfires in the countryside, take a picnic instead.
“It may seem like a fun idea to have a barbecue while at a beauty spots but it can so easily spread, endangering wildlife and the environment and even threatening nearby homes.
“Cigarettes are often not put out thoroughly and can also start fires, as can sunlight shining through a discarded glass bottle – something many people don’t realise.
“Sadly, many beautiful areas were significantly damaged by fires last year and in 2018. The damage caused can still be seen in some areas as it takes years to recover and regrow.”
Jon Rowe, Senior Land Management Officer for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Our publicly accessible green spaces are so fragile, it only takes one careless act to cause large destruction to wildlife.
“BBQs and campfires are not allowed on any Staffordshire Wildlife Trust's nature reserves, including at the Roaches. We urge anyone visiting the countryside to report any fires, however small, immediately by calling 999."
Picture: The recent blaze at Deep Hayes Country Park near Leek.