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OUR LIVES WENT UP IN SMOKE; Ordinary Scots are the victims of arson attacks that cost us all millions.

Byline: Katrina Tweedie

MORE than 80 fires a day are deliberately set in Scotland - that's more than 30,000 a year and accounts for more than half the call-outs for the fire services.

Every year these fires cause millions of pounds' worth of damage and children and young people suffer serious burns setting fire to skips, piles of rubbish, derelict buildings and abandoned cars.

But they also put us all at risk because fire fighters called out to tackle deliberate fires are not on watch to deal with a blaze in your home.

Deliberate fires are often in deprived communities where families are working hard to improve their neighbourhood and incidents tend to peak around the summer and in the lead up to bonfire night.

Wilful fire setting is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for adults and youngsters can be reported to the children's panel.

Yet it continues to be viewed by the public as more of a nuisance than a serious problem and many people fear reprisals if they report a fire to the emergency services.

Now, following a successful pilot campaign in Pollok - Scotland's fire setting hotspot - the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services are targeting other problem areas.

In Pollok, Glasgow, 70 per cent of fires are deliberately set but a four-week campaign that urged local residents to stand up to the fire bugs and report incidents saw a 35 per cent reduction in fires - saving society pounds 88,000.

Today a similar four-week initiative will be rolled out in Grampian where over 40,000 households will be provided with information on reporting fire setting to Crimestoppers, and further activity is planned across Central Scotland to stamp out Scotland's fire shame.

People who know anything about fires that have been started within their community are urged to phone Crimestoppers immediately on 0800 555 111.

All calls are completely anonymous, people are not required to give any personal details and the call won't even appear on your telephone bill.

Here we speak to two people who have suffered the consequences of deliberate fires.

'IT WAS JUST FORTUNATE NOBODY WAS KILLED..'

GERRY Gallagher was asleep in bed when a phone call woke him in the early hours to say his business was on fire.

As owner of Fauldhouse Cricket Club in West Lothian, he had just spent pounds 122,000 refurbishing the club, which employed 14 people and was a valuable resource for the community.

"I drove straight there hoping the news was wrong, but I was met by six fire engines and over 40 fire fighters all battling to get the inferno under control," he says.

It took the fire services more than seven hours to contain the blaze and soon after were able to tell Gerry it had been a deliberate fire.

"Seeing my business go up in flames was devastating. Every penny we made went back into it and we'd done a huge amount to make sure the community was benefiting from the club.

"After that work and effort it was especially hard to be told it was a deliberate fire. Why would someone want to do that? Is it just badness? You have to wonder what goes through people's minds when they do something like this."

He adds: "Because we were doing a major refurbishment on the building it wasn't unusual for me to be on the premises at that time of the morning. I could easily have been in the building so it was just fortunate that no one was injured or killed."

Six months on, his 14 staff are still out of jobs as Gerry tries to rebuild the destroyed club and he is also fighting his insurers who so far have refused to pay out.

"The fire destroyed the whole building, but the historical damage is more damaging for the people of Fauldhouse," adds Gerry.

"This club has been here for more than 100 years and it's important to retain that.

"We had brought new classes like singing, acting and dance to the village, which people loved, and we had bingo on Sundays for the older generation.

"Whoever did this are simply scumbags. I do hope the police catch them before I do. I'd also like to thank the community for their support and giving us the heart to carry on."

Voiceof Scotland

HALF of all fires in Scotland are deliberate, wasting the time and money of fire services and putting lives at risk. Ally Birkett, Grampian Fire Service's head of community safety, explains the reality

A CALL comes in and the crew race to get to the pile of burning rubbish, deliberately set on fire in a housing scheme.

It could easily spread to nearby houses and needs to be put out quickly before anyone is injured. But, while firefighters are there, another call comes in.

Someone is trapped in a burning building. But the nearest fire crew are still busy with the burning rubbish and can't leave.

This is a scenario that can and has happened.

Half the fires attended by crews are deliberate. It's a shocking problem that beggars belief. It is mainly kids, but we can't simply blame children mucking around.

People set fire to schools and shops, they put burning paper through letterboxes and set fire to wheelie-bins and cars.

But many of these incidents happen through the night when most children are in their beds.

It is extremely frustrating for firefighters.

These fires cause death and injury, they destroy homes and businesses and are harmful to the environment. It also diverts firefighters away from dealing with more serious incidents.

They can't be in two places at once so, if a fire crew is dealing with a burning wheelie bin, they can't attend a blazing building or the car accident where someone is trapped.

In 2006, there were almost 31,000 deliberate fires in Scotland that resulted in 13 deaths and 373 people injured.

There is a fascination with fire, but people don't appreciate that a small fire can travel quickly and easily get out of control.

To parents, we say - keep your children safe and make sure you know where they are and what they are doing.

If any parent is concerned that their child may be involved in fire-setting or might be tempted to start fires, they can contact their local fire and rescue service for confidential help and advice.

And if you know someone or see someone who is deliberately setting a fire in your area, you should call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Farmer's retirement hit by demolition job

RETIRED farmer John Gray was on the golf course when he spotted the smoke in the distance, coming from the direction of his steading.

"I knew it was my farm steading, but I could do nothing about it and by the time I jumped in the car and got there everything was completely destroyed," he said.

Since he retired, the space in John's steading was being used by another local man who stored machinery, including a classic MGB car.

During the blaze, in March this year, police had to set up a 200metre exclusion zone around the building and closed nearby roads after learning there were also a number of gas cylinders inside.

Local roads were closed, and firefighters took shifts cooling the cylinders during the night.

Residents of Carnoustie were well aware of the fire, with a pall of thick black smoke billowing over the town as car tyres burned. The cost of the fire is estimated at pounds 80,000 and the building is ruined and will have to be pulled down.

"No one likes to see their home or business crumbling to the ground," says John.

"I am now left with a burned-out shell and the expense of demolishing it, which is not something I planned for my retirement."

John admits that fire setting on his farm steading has been a problem for decades, with local children from the nearby town burning straw and, on two occasions, his barn.

Tayside Police say three boys, two aged 10 and one 11-year-old, have been charged with wilful fire-raising, in connection with this latest incident.

John believes those responsible climbed through the roof and lit a fire, which then quickly got out of control.

He added: "At least the boys got out. It could have been much worse. They might have been trapped in there."

CAPTION(S):

BURNT OUT: Fauldhouse Cricket Club was torched in a blaze it took seven hours to contain. Fourteen local jobs were lost and the clubhouse destroyed ANGER: Firefighters told Gerry club fire had been deliberate RESCUE MISSION: Firefighters tackle a blaze DESPAIR: John Gray
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 18, 2009
Words:1454
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