Group celebrating successes in arson crackdown

Fire service
Fire service
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A group set up to prevent deliberate fires has met again to review its success and pledge to continue tackling hotspots for anti-social behaviour.

The multi-agency group covering wheelie bins and greenery being torched in the Westleigh and Atherleigh areas says it is particularly concerned about the activities of youths in Firs Park.

Coun John Harding

Coun John Harding

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However, the group, which brings together elected representatives, including Wigan’s former fire chief and now Atherleigh councillor John Harding, the fire service, police and Wigan Council officers, says it has also achieved notable successes.

Green spaces have been increasingly free of young vandals setting light to wheelie bins after the boundary fences were beefed up.

The group, which regularly meets at Atherton Fire Station but last week met at the old Shopmobility premises in Leigh town centre, was formed last year after a particularly nasty series of events including attacks on firefighters.

Coun Harding said: “Traditionally Leigh has suffered a higher number of deliberate fires than other parts of Greater Manchester so the fire service contacted us to set up meetings to see what could be done about local issues.

“It’s an ongoing problem.

“At the moment we have some issues on Westleigh Park but the friends’ group there is helping us to address that.

“We’re looking at expanding the group.

“We’ve also put fencing up which has made it harder for youths to drag wheelie bins over the wall and set fire to them.

“We’ve also worked with the fly-tipping team, getting people to put bins away and not leave them out if it’s not collection day.

“Overall I would say we’ve been very successful.

“Areas such as the Trees estate, where we used to have a lot of problems, are not such an issue now.

“However, the problem is a bit of a moveable feast and it can be quite cyclical.

“We often get more issues around Halloween and Bonfire Night.”

Coun Harding says the multi-agency approach, with everyone who can do something to tackle a problem, is enabling faster responses to anti-social behaviour.

Coun Harding served 33 years in the fire service including five as the borough’s commander and says he knows from personal experience how vital it is that crews are not being dragged out to deal with deliberate fires.

He said: “Every time firefighters are called out to a deliberate fire that crew is unavailable and other engines have to travel further.

“That can be absolutely devastating if the incident is something like a house fire.

“I remember us travelling to a house because the nearest crew was at a deliberate fire and it turned out to be a fatal incident.

“Even things like barbcues can be a problem.

“People need to control the burning and leave the fire and rescue service to do major incidents.”