FIREFIGHTERS have blasted yobs after they were prevented from responding to a 999 call because they were tied up tackling a grass blaze.
Fire crews say they have been inundated with calls to playing fields and woodlands across South Tyneside in the past few days.
They revealed that since March 25 they have attended 18 fires in Boldon Colliery, including Colliery Woods, where the aftermath of about 40 to 50 separate pockets of fire have been discovered.
Some of those fires were put out by crews, while others burned out themselves.
Despite repeated warnings about the risk fire-starters are causing to other residents of the borough, the fires have continued – and on Monday the threat became a reality.
Firefighters couldn’t turn out to a kitchen blaze in South Shields because they were too busy tackling a grass fire in Colliery Woods in Boldon.
A second crew, who had not long returned to South Shields station after putting out a grass fire, were able to attend with back-up from Hebburn.
Firefighters say that, although crews were quickly on the scene of the blaze in St Jude’s Terrace, South Shields, it took the Hebburn crew longer to arrive from the other side of South Tyneside.
Station manager at South Shields Ian Cuskin said: “What happened on Monday is a perfect example of what we have been saying all along.
“Lives are being put at serious risk by those who think it’s fun to start a grass fire.
“Calls to house fires always need two pumps, and on this occasion we were able to send one from South Shields, but a second had to respond from Hebburn, which does have an impact on us attending an emergency.
“A few minutes’ delay could mean the difference between life or death.
“These people setting fire to grass need to seriously think about the consequences of their actions.
“How would they feel if it was their house on fire and nearby crews couldn’t get there because they are too busy putting out grass fires they had started.”
The fire service, the police, South Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Homes are running the Lighter Nights campaign.
It aims to tackle anti-social behaviour – including deliberately-started fires – which increase when the lighter nights arrive.
Watch manager Tony Brew, at South Shields, said: “We have warned this could happen, but yet the warnings have gone unheeded.
“It was only luck the second crew were able to respond to the 999 call with back-up from Hebburn, who took longer to get there as they have further to travel.
“But if Hebburn were attending another fire, then it would be down to a crew from Sunderland, or even Wallsend, to respond.
“Thankfully, those inside the property were able to escape, but it could have been much worse.
“We could have been dealing with a fatality.”
n Anyone with details on people starting grass fires is asked to call police on 101 or the fire service.