11 arsonists hunted after 44 fires put out over heatwave weekend

Brave firefighters had to tackle 44 grass and woodland fires over the weekend, with 11 of them being lit deliberately.

Crews from Merseyside Fire and Rescue were called to 33 accidental grass and woodland fires and 11 deliberate fires from Friday, May 29 to Sunday, May 31.

Of those 33 accidental grass fires, 17 were in Wirral, five were in Liverpool, four were in Sefton, four were in St Helens and three were in Knowsley.

Out of the 11 deliberate fires, Liverpool had the most with five being set on purpose over the weekend.

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Wirral had four deliberate grass and woodland blazes and both Knowsley and St Helens had one.

Last week fire crews had to use four wheel drive vehicles to get into the heart of Formby Pinewoods after a large fire broke out close to Fisherman's Path.

Merseyside firefighters at a fire on Thurstaston Common, Wirral. Photo by Colin Lane

Due to the difficult terrain, it wasn't possible to bring fire engines down into the woods so crews were forced to use water tanks on their back to get the fire under control.

Crews spent almost a full 24 hours at the scene attempting to dampen it down and control the smoldering.

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Just hours later, in the evening of Thursday, May 28 firefighters were again called to a fire covering a large area of Thurstaston Common in Wirral.

The blaze involved massive amount of grass, gorse and tress but fire crews later showed how the blaze had tore through the area, leaving a scorched area the size of three football pitches.

But as crews in Wirral tackled the Thurstaston Common blaze, firefighters in Sefton were again called to Formby Pinewoods.

Shortly after midnight, teams received reports that groups of youths were setting fires.

Merseyside Police, Merseyside Fire and Rescue and Sefton Council made a joint plea last week for people to be sensible and respectful if they decided to visit the beauty spots over the weekend.

Formby Beach. Photo by Colin Lane

However the message seems to have been ignored by a number of people.

Chief fire officer Phil Garrigan condemned these actions and said there was "no excuse for this kind of behaviour".

Mr Garrigan said the grass fires take firefighter crews away responding from other "potentially life-threatening incidents."

He said: “There is absolutely no excuse for his kind of behaviour. Deliberately throwing lit barbecues into the grass after a period of extremely dry weather is not only irresponsible, it is extremely dangerous.

"Grass fires can spread quickly and have a devastating impact on our natural environment, wildlife and public amenities.

"They also take our crews away from responding to other potentially life-threatening incidents."

The chief firefighter said starting deliberate fires is arson and a serious criminal offence and all cases will be investigated.

Merseyside firefighters at a fire on Thurstaston Common, Wirral. Photo by Colin Lane

He asked parents to speak to their children about the consequences of such actions.

He added: "We have seen a significant increase in our attendance to grass fires in recent weeks and over the recent weekend (May 29 to 31), we were called to 44 fires involving grass and woodland – 11 of which were deliberately started.

"This is arson and a serious criminal offence. These fires will be investigated by ourselves and Merseyside Police.

"We would urge parents to speak to their children about the very real consequences for them and for others.

“Of course, not all grass fires are started deliberately but the majority can be avoided.

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"We understand that people want to enjoy the current spell of nice weather but this has to be done in a way that does not create risks of fire.

"We would urge the public to be especially careful in the hot weather – make sure you dispose of your rubbish and cigarettes safely.

"Don’t throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of your car window and don’t leave bottles and glass behind. If you were able to take items with you, you are able to take them home.

"People should not be lighting fires or taking disposable barbecues into woodland, open countryside or onto our beaches.”