46% rise in ‘deliberate fires’ identified as careless picnickers set fire to Milton Keynes parkland

A huge increase in deliberate blazes has been driven up by careless members of the public using disposable barbecues and lighting campfires on parkland, a meeting heard yesterday (Wednesday).

One of three Buckinghamshire ‘hotspots’ is at the Blue Lagoon Nature Reserve in Bletchley, where firefighters are regular visitors to the scene to put out patches of grassland that have been scorched by campfires or discarded BBQ kits.

Members of the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority were told that there were 626 deliberate fires in the county and MK in 2018-19. That’s up eight per cent.

When looked at over four years, the number of deliberate fires has zoomed up by 46 per cent, massively beating the national upward trend of 21 per cent. Although, when compared to 10 years ago, the fire authority’s data intelligence team manager Craig Newman reported to the overview and audit committee that the numbers today are much fewer.

A spokesman for the fire service said the damage has included wildlife being burned to death and plants being destroyed. A look at the fire service incident logs reveals firefighters attended the Blue Lagoon site sometimes twice in one day.

At 6.41pm on September 17 a crew from Bletchley put out a blaze across 1,000 sq-metres of grass and shrubs. On September 8, there were two incidents of arson at the Drayton Road site, involving large tracts of grassland.

A Milton Keynes fire engine courtesy Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service

A Milton Keynes fire engine courtesy Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service

There have also been fires in the woodland at the site which boasts more than 200 species of flowering plants.

The meeting, which was considering all kinds of data, was told that the fire authority has stepped up its activities to tackle “deliberate fire setting behaviour”, including giving talks in local schools.

A spokesman added that it is illegal to use fires on someone else’s land, without getting the owner’s permission.

“We have also had cases of people using portable barbecue equipment at home, where they do not give the embers enough time to properly cool down,” he said.

The resulting damage has seen residents’ sheds, fences and garden equipment catching light.

The fire service advice for using disposable BBQs includes not putting them directly on to grass or a flammable surface, and they must be completely cold before you dispose of them.

They’ve published more outdoor fire prevention advice here.