FIRE brigade chiefs are now targeting a “hard-core group of arsonists” after cutting deliberate fires by a third.
There were 3,998 arson attacks during 2009-10 in the Cleveland Fire Brigade area – the highest rate nationally per 10,000 people.
But that has was reduced by 37 per cent to 2,538 incidents during the last year, giving Cleveland the sixth highest rate in the country.
In Hartlepool there were 177 fewer deliberate fires over the last 12 months, a drop of 34 per cent from the previous year’s 520, while home fires in the town also dropped by 25 per cent with 11 less incidents.
Barry Waller, head of fire engineering with the brigade, said: “Hartlepool faces similar problems to the rest of the districts in that it seems to be a local past-time for a small minority to set fires deliberately.
“These people put themselves and firefighters in danger while also taking up valuable resources that could be needed to save lives elsewhere.
“What we have seen though through education, awareness and various projects is a reduction in deliberate fires. But what we have been left with is a hard-core group of arsonists who are still causing a problem.
“Our message to them is that all deliberate fires will be investigated and those setting them will be caught. We will talk to people in the area, look for evidence and those caught will be prosecuted. Our officers are all trained to a high level of forensic investigation.”
In the Cleveland area there was a total reduction in fire call-outs by eight per cent. The 2009/10 figure of 4,499 dropped to 4,124.
The brigade also has the highest reduction overall nationally since 2001/02 and the lowest rate of accidental home fires in the country.
Mr Waller added: “These achievements are fantastic but we still have much to do.
“Only five per cent of our time is spent actually responding to fires, there is so much more going on that people do not see.
“By going to schools, having a young firefighters association and spending time with children we can teach them the consequences of fires and how to stay safe.
“We are also more aware of what people set on fire and make sure piles of rubbish and untaxed and uninsured cars are quickly removed.
“That is reducing the cost to taxpayers, making neighbourhoods better places to live and boosting the economy.”
The figures released in a Service Plan Summary show the brigade has the lowest council tax demands in the country and £8.469m has been shaved off the budget since 2004-05.
But the 2011-12 budget requirement of £31.609m – made up of £20.52m in government grants, council tax at £10.9m and a top up from collection funds – is still the third-highest net expenditure per 1,000 people in the country.