TikTok fire-starter craze linked to spate of deliberate blazes in South Shields

A “social media craze” involving youths setting fires could be linked to a rise in arson incidents in parts of South Tyneside, fire and police bosses have said.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 1:02 pm
Deliberate blazes in South Tyneside have been linked to a social media 'craze'
Deliberate blazes in South Tyneside have been linked to a social media 'craze'

Secondary fires are generally small outdoor fires not involving people or property, such as waste and grassland fires.

According to data presented to councillors this week, there has been a large increase in such fires in the Beacon and Bents ward compared to last year.

The ward, which covers several beaches and coastal parks in South Shields, saw 16 reports of deliberate secondary fires in March.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Trevor Sturrock, station manager for Hebburn and South Shields fire stations, revealed the figures during a Riverside Community Area Forum (CAF) meeting on April 20.

He told councillors he believed almost all the fires in Beacon in Bents were started by the same individual or group because they were all in the same area – with the vast majority also involving grass and reeds on the beach front.

With the pattern of secondary fires continuing into April, fire chiefs said a social media trend of youngsters sharing videos of fires may be fuelling the increase in incidents locally.

“I have looked into April and the trend and the pattern [of secondary fires] is continuing so it hasn’t dropped off to date,” Mr Sturrock said.

“As mentioned previously, it does seem to be a bit of a social media trend.

“I do believe there is a social media platform called TikTok where some youths have been filming themselves setting some fires.

“And then this is having a knock-on effect throughout the region [with youths] almost trying to outdo each other with this type of fire setting.”

Mr Sturrock added the trend may have been linked to a recent report of ‘accelerant’ being used at a fire in West Park.

The fire chief said home visits were important in helping to educate offenders about the impact of their behaviour on both the environment and fire service resources.

“My experience tells me that probably the best way of solving this is actually highlighting it to individuals and speaking to them,” Mr Sturrock explained.

“Once you highlight the first individual and engage with them and tell them the impact of what they’re actually doing, as soon as you leave that individual they almost do the social media for you.

“Because then they will text their friends, it goes through the WhatsApp groups etc […] and then we tend to see that dying down.

“We had a great effect using that sort of technique last year when some fires were happening at Temple Park.”

He added: “Please if you get any information through on any potential firesetters [and] names let me know in the first instance and I will gather them up and we will do some home visits and see if we can get this nipped in the bud.”

The fire chief added the rise in secondary fires was not specific to the Riverside CAF area, but a borough-wide issue.

During an update from Northumbria Police earlier in the CAF meeting, acting Inspector Dave Stobbs noted recent fires at the South Shields foreshore and West Park and increased numbers in other areas such as Jarrow and Hebburn.

However, he moved to reassure councillors that offenders would be dealt with “proportionately.”

“It seems to be a bit of a social media craze if you like, with certain groups of youngsters that think it’s fun to do this,” acting Inspector Stobbs said.

“Yes we will robustly try and investigate any arsons and try to identify any youths involved and deal with them proportionately.”

Information about deliberate fires can be reported anonymously via FireStoppers by calling 0800 169 5558 or visiting www.firestoppersreport.co.uk.

Support your Gazette and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news, the latest football stories and new puzzles every day. With a digital subscription, you can see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.