Communities urged to help fight arson land blight

Residents need to work closely with the authorities if they want to rid their streets of burnt-out buildings and vehicles, according to fire minister Jim Fitzpatrick.

Mr Fitzpatrick, himself a former fire-fighter, told the national conference of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that firebugs could not only ruin the lives of their neighbours, but also their local environment.

“The sight of burnt out properties and burnt out vehicles on the street adds to people’s feelings of fear and insecurity,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“We know it can seriously affect their well-being and quality of life.

“Every time they go out their front door the problem confronts them.

“This can demoralise a whole neighbourhood.”

The effects of fire go far beyond the social impact, however, with the smoke from burning cars and buildings releasing a deadly cocktail of harmful gases and particles while the land left around the wreckage also often contaminated as pollutants leak into the surrounding soil.

The poorest communities are hardest hit, with those on low incomes a depressing 31 times more likely to be affected by arson attacks near their homes and 126 times more likely to be killed by such fires than their wealthier neighbours.

The statistics are in keeping with research into environmental justice published in Scotland this May (see related story), indicating the price of your postcode determines the likelihood of being directly confronted with environmental problems.

“We want to change that and make sure no-one is at greater risk because of where they live,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

Fire damage from arson and the subsequent clean up costs England and Wales some £2.8 billion per year.

Most of these fires are started by a small number of prolific offenders, often under 18 and often involved in other crimes.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the Government-led Arson Control Forum would be looking at ways to reduce deliberate fire starting and the damage it caused, both by addressing the complex issues behind the behaviour and implementing reforms in the emergency services to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response to incidents.

By Sam Bond

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