Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is urging the public to take extra care when enjoying the countryside this summer.
The warning comes following an alarming number of fires at beauty spots in the county.
With Covid-19 restrictions limiting the leisure options available, people have been drawn to the county’s open spaces and the dry hot conditions over recent months have left everywhere tinder dry.
This combination has sparked an increase of incidents.
Since March, the service has attended 715 incidents, 64 per cent of these (459) were started deliberately.
There have already been reports of wild campers lighting campfires on the Roaches, luckily they were reported to rangers and extinguished before they spread.
As a result firefighters have launched a safety campaign to highlight just how easily fires can start.
The campaign Don’t be Blamed for the Flames launches today (Monday 22 June) and aims to prevent more serious blazes devastating Staffordshire’s picturesque landscape.
It also aims to deter would be fire setters from deliberately starting fires for fun.
The service is working in partnership with local landowners, including Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the National Trust and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to get the message out.
Banners and posters are being displayed at popular sites to make people think twice, along with free cigarette disposal pouches.
The service will also use digital advertising through apps such as Spotify and TikTok, along with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share its message.
A dozen local shops near to the county’s beauty spots are also supporting the campaign by placing warning stickers on their stocks of disposable barbeques.
The campaign includes the installation of a large banner at the Roaches near Leek today (Monday 22 June).
The spot was chosen in an attempt to prevent history repeating itself, as over 200 acres of land (over 100 football pitches) were damaged by a blaze in August 2018.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust joined forces with Buxton Mountain Rescue climbers who installed the banner, which features the campaigns warning message ‘It all started with a… BBQ. Campfire. Cigarette. Glass bottle'.
Last year fire crews attended 1,529 fires outdoors, with some of the largest incidents caused by disposable barbecues.
Shockingly, the majority (1,129) of outdoor fires last year were started deliberately.
Director of Community Safety Howard Watts said: “We need your help to stop these incidents from happening. These fires are either down to human error - they don’t just start on their own and are usually caused by a barbeque, campfire, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass bottle left behind by someone.
“Our message is simple. Please don’t use barbecues or campfires in the countryside, it may seem like a fun idea to have a barbecue but it can so easily spread, endangering wildlife and the environment and even threatening nearby homes.
“Cigarettes are often not put out thoroughly and can also start fires, as can sunlight shining through a discarded glass bottle – something many people don’t realise.
“Sadly, we often see a rise in the number of deliberate fires set during school holidays.
"Of course this year most young people haven’t been at school since March and with many activities cancelled or postponed we anticipate they may make bad judgements to keep themselves entertained.
“We’d appeal to our communities to be our eyes and ears. Setting deliberate fires for fun is a crime, so if you see or hear anything suspicious please report it to the police or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111. If you find a fire call 999 immediately.”
Jon Rowe, Senior Land Management Officer for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Our publicly accessible green spaces are so fragile, it only takes one careless act to cause large destruction to wildlife.
“BBQs and campfires are not allowed on any Staffordshire Wildlife Trust's nature reserves, including at the Roaches.
"We urge anyone visiting the countryside to report any fires, however small, immediately by calling 999."
For more information on the Don’t be Blamed for the Flames campaign visit www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/