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Leighton Andrews AM shows his support for the All Wales fight against wildfires


Today (10.30am Thursday 17th March) at the new Hirwaun community Fire and Rescue Station, Rhondda Cynon Taff, the three Welsh Fire and Rescue Services and their partners welcomed the Minister for Public Services Leighton Andrews AM to the launch of theirhard hittingAll Wales multi-agency approach to combating grass and mountain fires across Wales during 2016.


Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service Huw Jakeway said: This year, as with previous years, werefuse to toleratethe deliberate grass and mountain fires that lead to the destruction of the mountainside and wildlife across Wales, which can put lives at risk.


"By working with our partners on thishard hitting multi-agencycampaign we are determined to make a change and make deliberate fire setting completely unacceptable to everyone in our communities - grass fires have consequences so they have to stop!."


Assistant Chief Constable for South Wales Police, Richard Lewis said: "Last year South Wales was left counting the cost of damage due to reckless and deliberate grass fires. The naïve actions of the few had a huge impact on the many. Grass fires divert essential emergency services away from those vulnerable and in need.


"This year the message is clear, if you set a grass fire, you are a criminal. One silly action can have serious consequences on a persons future. I urge parents, guardians, teachers and members of the public to look out for signs of suspicious behaviour such as smelling of smoke and accelerant, possession of matches and other behaviour that is suspicious.


"Through government funded Community Support Officers (CSOs) and working in partnership with other organisations we have been able to provide information to the communities of South Wales about grass fires. The CSO role ensures that preventative and educational messages have been delivered to the residents of South Wales."


Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews said: "Deliberately setting grass fires is stupid, dangerous and illegal.  Firefighters have to put their lives at risk to tackle this menace, and to minimise the damage to the environment and the fear that grass fires create in local communities.   


"We are all working as hard as we can to prevent grass fires, and the campaign we are launching today is a vital part of that.  But we also need to be sure that our firefighters can deal with grass fires swiftly, safely and effectively.  That is why I am very pleased to be able to fund the off-road vehicles and protective equipment that will enable them to do so."


During the visit the Minister was introduced to the fire crew at Hirwaun Fire Station - one of the Fire Stations within the SWFRS area that has to respond to a high percentage of the grass fires incidents within the South Wales area. The fire crew were wearing the new fire kit (Personal Protective Equipment - PPE) being issued to all Firefighters across South Wales and North Wales over the next few months that will give them added protection while fighting these extremely dangerous and intense grass and mountain fires.


Also on display was one of the four brand new All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) that were purchased by the Welsh Government. The ATV is a vehicle especially designed for fast response firefighting when rough terrain has to be navigated. The pump is able to provide water for the firefighting system or crews can fill the water tank in a matter of minutes.


The Minister was then shown the'still laughing?'short film. This is the foundation of the 'harder' hitting side of the campaign aimed at secondary school aged pupils and upwards. The theme of this strand of the campaign is to encourage fire and potential fire starters to think about the consequences of deliberately starting grass and mountain fires and something that may seem like fun and a bit of a laugh can actually have devastating consequences for the fire setter themselves (criminal record), the wildfire, the landscape, the Welsh economy and most importantly it also means that Firefighters could be diverted from attending a real emergency - someone trapped in a house fire or a crashed car, where there is a potential risk to life.


The still laughing strand of the campaign has its own website where visitors can view the short film, the film will also be shown on the SWFRS website and partner website. From the 25th March - 8th April the video will be shown in cinemas across Rhondda Cynon Taff, Bridgend, Cardiff and Merthyr and from 21st March - 4th April there also be a radio advert that will support the theme of the campaign and the film.


The Minister was then introduced to Bernie, who is a sheep mascot of the strand for the All Wales multi-agency strand aimed at key stage one and two pupils in South Wales.  As part of the Bernie campaign this year Bernie has his very own 'Bernie Roadshow' which has been visiting primary schools across Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT) since the beginning of February. The roadshow is used to engage and educate the young people on the consequences of deliberately setting grass and mountain fires - especially when it comes to their homes, the landscape and the wildlife living in the countryside of South Wales.


Huw Jakeway, Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire and Rescue, said; "Tackling the issues of deliberate grass fires is as much about prevention, education and enforcement as it is about operational equipment and tactics for putting the fires out.  We have been and will continue to work closely with our neighbouring Fire and Rescue Services and partner agencies to address the underlying issues of anti-social behaviour and deliberate grass fire setting that result in the devastation of the environment. We are very keen to involve the local people in stopping the blight of deliberate grass fires."


The 'grass fires have consequences' communications approach is part of a wider multi-agency grass fire reduction strategy (Dawns Glaw) that has been developed by the three Fire and Rescue Services of Wales, with the support of their partners, to reduce the number of grass and mountain fires across Wales.  The wider strategy will focus on the communication, education, diversion and enforcement messages and initiatives that all partners will develop and implement according to their particular areas of focus - for South Wales the emphasis is on the reduction of deliberate grass and mountain fires.

Watch the short film 'Are you still laughing?' here

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