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As the school summer holidays approach, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is calling on parents to warn young people who start fires that they face a huge fine or even a custodial sentence in a young offenders' institution as a consequence of their irresponsible behaviour.
Area Manager Andy Bowers at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Grass fires are both time consuming and difficult for firefighters to deal with. They spread quickly, killing plants and wildlife and putting nearby properties at risk. We are working towards a safer neighbourhood and preservation of our heathland and local habitats.
"Young people need to be very clear that arson is a crime and certainly not harmless fun. Deliberate fires are destructive and dangerous; those who cause them are putting themselves, and others, at serious risk as resources are diverted from where they are needed most."
Blazes are started in all sorts of areas, including rubbish, fly tipping, grassland, parks and even homes. Such fires are often carried out by groups and tend to be unplanned, arising from opportunity and even peer pressure.
Arson with the intent to endanger life carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Deliberate fire setting that doesn't endanger life or cause criminal damage can lead to anti-social behaviour orders or community service.
Group Manager Martin Walters from Rushmoor Fire Station said: "A fire in the countryside can cause many thousands of pounds worth of damage and kill wildlife. Many such fires are caused by the carelessness of people using the countryside, or by children deliberately starting fires. Fires can take hold very quickly when the ground is dry and you can never be sure how the fire has been started. My advice is to call 999 and give a good description of where the fire is and what is involved."
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service advises the public the following advice if you do see a fire in the countryside:
• contact the fire service immediately and dial 999.
• don't attempt to put it out yourself as grass fires can travel very quickly and change direction without warning.
• if you can, stay around so that you can direct firefighters to the scene - but only if it is safe to do so. If not, evacuate the area as soon as possible
• Give a map reference if possible, otherwise give a landmark such as a farm or pub to help locate the fire
• Estimate the size of the area that's burning
• Describe the type of terrain (grass, bracken, forest, open moorland etc)
Group Manager Walters from Rushmoor Fire Station said: "By following the simple guidelines, such as avoiding dropping litter, avoiding careless disposal of cigarettes and reporting any suspicious events, we can reduce the risk of further fires and continue to enjoy the countryside for the forthcoming summer months. If you have any concerns, or if you see a fire, you should contact the fire and rescue service or police. Most importantly, think of your safety first."
Everyone can reduce the risk of fire by taking the following advice:
• People can reduce the risk of grass fires and make their summer safer by following a few simple rules:
• Don't leave camp fires or barbeques unattended and extinguish them properly after you have finished using them.
• Clear away bottles, glasses and any broken glass to avoid them magnifying the sun and starting a fire.
• Dispose of smoking materials properly and make sure they are completely extinguished.
• Talk to young people about the dangers of playing with and lighting fires.
• Report any information about illegal fire setting activities and those responsible (anonymously) to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.