Bonfires and nuisance fires cost Stockton £10m in five years

A FIRE chief has warned bonfires have cost Stockton £10m in the past five years amid a rise in nuisance blazes across the borough.

Stockton councillors are taking a closer look at plans to tackle bonfires on public land over fears some are getting out of hand on Hardwick and in parts of the town centre. Craig Strike, from Cleveland Fire Brigade, told the latest crime and disorder select committee how fires had cost Stockton’s economy a staggering £10m in the past five years through costs of clean-ups and the knock-on negative effects they could have.

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Mr Strike said the figures were strong. He added: “Bonfires have cost the economy of Stockton £10m based on data provided by central and local government.

“That’s the cost to the area. While a lot of the time they’re seen as nuisance fires, behind the scenes, the costs on tourism, repairs and house prices are factored in – and they’re quite stark.”

Council, fire and police teams gear up for a rise in fire and trouble between mid-October and mid-November every year. Past meetings have heard how fireworks being used as missiles have posed more of a problem to Stockton police teams in recent years.

Emergency workers faced attacks from fireworks missiles near High Newham Road on Bonfire Night in 2020. The committee has also raised questions after Stockton Council warned its annual fireworks display in the town center is in doubt this autumn – with the launch site for pyrotechnics now set for housing.

Figures presented to the panel showed Stockton “performed quite well” when it came to smaller “secondary fires” which tend to be burned rubbish or grassland blazes. The borough has seen 1,721 cases per 100,000 people in the past five years compared to Cleveland’s higher average of 3,050 per 100,000.

But the statistics also showed that 2021 had seen a 63% increase in refuse fires compared to 2020. And 2021 levels were up 33% on pre-covid fire figures in 2019.

Five wards were noted as hotspots for blazes. Hardwick, the town center ward, Billingham East, Newtown and Stainsby Hill, Thornaby, clocked the most cases in 2021/22.

Top of the table for secondary fires between 2017 and 2022 was:

Durham Road, Newtown – 113
Northbourne Road, Newtown – 65
Dundas Street, Newtown – 51
Durham Road, Hardwick – 44
Doncaster Crescent, Newtown – 39
Talbot Street, Stockton town center – 39
Bishopton Road, Newtown – 34
Melbourne Street, Stockton town center – 25
Frederick Street, Stockton town center – 16
High Newham Road, Hardwick – 16
Neasham Avenue, Billingham – 16
Holme House Road, Stockton town center – 14
Gilside Road, Billingham – 12
Dixon Street, Stockton town center – 12
Tithe Barn Road, Hardwick – 12
Tedder Avenue, Stainsby Hill, Thornaby – 11
Low Grange Avenue, Billingham – 8

Mr Strike said diversionary activities had made a “huge difference” in reducing fires – referring to the “Boys in Blue” boxing program it funded at Brambles Farm and Thorntree, Middlesbrough. “It only ran for a month but during that period we saw a 50% reduction in fires in that area,” he added.

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Mr Strike told the committee how the fire brigade didn’t have legal powers to prevent bonfires. He added: “There’s nothing we can do if there is an accumulation of rubbish.

“The only thing we can do is promote fire safety and then go and extinguish it, so there is a bit of a gap in there.” The brigade official also urged the council to have an easier route – or a “priority line” for them to alert authority teams about potential tinder and rubbish at risk of being set alight, as they had to use the same route as the public at the moment.

The review continues.

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