Headlines: October 2nd, 2002

Schemes to combat arson in derelict buildings in Cheshire and Newcastle upon Tyne are being highlighted in a government campaign warning local councils of the risks of deliberate fire setting.The latest government figures show there were 10,700 fires in empty unsecured properties in the UK in 2000. Fires involving waste materials are running at almost 150,000 a year. A circular is being sent to all local authorities offering the first full round up of information and advice on the powers currently available to councils, police and fire services to tackle the threat of arson.

Fire Safety Minister, Chris Leslie, said the circular and initiatives by the Arson Control Forum, were part of an ongoing campaign to prevent arson and to deal quickly and effectively with its consequences.

“This circular offers comprehensive guidance to local authorities on all the powers available to them to tackle these potential fire hazards. The package also gives details of innovative work being carried out regionally under the auspices of the Arson Control Forum and will provide our local authority partners with a useful new weapon in the fight against arson, ” he said.

Examples of best practice highlighted in the circular include the Arson Task Force partnership in Newcastle, bringing together the city council and the fire brigade. Firefighters and community beat officers are able to report unsecured properties and to have them boarded up immediately. The Task Force also liaises with Transco and Northern Electricity to have gas and power supplies to vacant property cut of before they present a danger. The city’s fire and environmental health officers are also working together on rapid response to cases where rubbish poses a risk.

In Cheshire a fire service initiative includes targeted community action such as in Warrington where, after two wheelie bin fires trapped people in their homes, the police, fire brigade and local council housing staff worked together to highlight the risks.