CONCERNS have been sparked by a big rise in the number of fires being started deliberately in Inverclyde.

A new report has revealed that the number of wilful fires in the district has more than doubled over the last year.

Figures from the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service show that there were 76 deliberate blazes in Inverclyde between October 1 and December 31 in 2023.

This compares with 36 incidents for the same period the year before.

The shocking statistics were discussed at a meeting of the local police and fire scrutiny panel, where councillors posed questions to SFRS group commander Rodney Anderson.

Councillor Francesca Brennan said she found the escalation ‘very concerning’ and sought reassurances that SFRS had enough resources to cope with it.

She said: “It does raise questions about staffing levels and the impact it is having on people in the community.”

The group commander admitted that local crews were currently not operating at full strength, but added that the service was currently recruiting and training new recruits.

He said: “We had two members of staff starting in Gourock last week and others taking part in basic training and they would be ready to start in March in Greenock and Port Glasgow. And we are carrying a recruitment drive to encourage more on-call firefighters in Inverclyde.

“I am comfortable with the levels of whole time firefighters.”

He also told members of the committee that fire chiefs are working closely with the council and police on an action plan to tackle deliberate firestarters.

Fellow panel member Cllr Paul Cassidy, inset below, highlighted how his ward, Inverclyde South West, accounted for no fewer than 28 of the deliberate blazes recorded.

Before the meeting, Councillor Cassidy told the Telegraph: “It is deeply alarming and distressing to witness a surge in deliberate fires in the ward, particularly concentrated in the Larkfield Burns Square area.

“The act of fireraising is inherently perilous, as it unfolds with unpredictable consequences.

“While we are fortunate to have avoided any loss of life thus far, these reckless incidents pose significant threats to lives, property, and the environment.

“Furthermore, they strain our emergency services, diverting vital resources from attending to other life-threatening situations and essential tasks.”

During the scrutiny panel meeting Councillor Cassidy said he had also been told that fire crews arriving to extinguish deliberate fires had come under attack.

He said: “It is disconcerting to learn that emergency services and our dedicated warden service, while responding to these incidents, have faced attacks.

“No one, especially our frontline blue-light workers, who diligently strive to keep our communities safe, should be subjected to such violence.”

Group commander Anderson said he hadn’t been made aware of any such incidents, but said he would look into the matter.

He said: “We have not received any reports of acts of violence or verbal attacks through our reporting system.

“If the officer in charge believers there is a potential risk to crews he would carry out a dynamic risk assessment. Nothing has been reported but I can look into station audits and feedback.”