A SPIKE in blazes attributed to self-isolating locals taking advantage of the spring sunshine by starting fires in their gardens is putting demand on crews in Barnsley, chiefs have revealed.

Incidents relating to garden fires shot up by 161 per cent during the last week of March when compared to the same period last year, statistics revealed this week.

Bosses believe self-isolating residents – who have been told to only leave their homes if it’s essential – are burning waste and starting barbecues as a result of the long spell of dry weather.

A fresh warning has been issued to deter people from continuing, while service chiefs have also urged people to resist the temptation to visit scenic spots where fires have been started.

The hills above the borough – particularly near Dunford Bridge – have experienced several major wildfires which have cost landowners around £500,000, according to a report into the blazes.

“We fully appreciate that people will have excess waste, given they are spending much more time at home, but we would really discourage people from burning it off in the garden,” said Steve Jones, who works in the joint police and fire community safety team.

“If a garden fire gets out of control, which so easily happens, we have to send a full crew to deal with it. The smoke can also cause real issues for people with respiratory illnesses – we’ve had reports from some people who haven’t been able to go out in their own gardens.

“At a time when we all need to come together we’re asking that, whilst they’re staying at home, people head to our website and pledge not to have a garden fire during the ongoing pandemic – it only takes 30 seconds and will make a big difference.”

The service has been contacted by a number of residents who have found it hard to physically leave their homes to exercise, due to the smoke coming from local garden fires where people have been burning garden and household waste.

Their message is also being backed by local authorities across the county, with an increase in air pollution being shown to negatively affect the health of those with respiratory illnesses.

A far-reaching public space protection order (PSPO) – which stretches from the Pennines to its furthest point at Dunford Bridge – came into force to prevent bonfires, barbecues, fireworks and sky lanterns, but now more measures have been taken to prevent a repeat of the devastating incidents in the hope that lessons will be learned from previous fires.

“First and foremost, we don’t want to take away from the most important message right now – stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” said fire safety boss Matt Gillatt.

“What we do want to do, though, is keep our firefighters free not only for real, life-threatening emergencies, and for the extra work that they are starting to take on during this pandemic.

“We appreciate people are generating more rubbish by staying at home, and that disposal options are more limited right now, which is why some people are lighting garden fires.

“Ideally people wouldn’t do this at all, given that they can so easily get out of control, put people at risk and tie up our firefighters.

“But if people must have a fire in their garden, please do not leave them unattended, keep them away from sheds, trees and fences and have a bucket of water nearby.

“Please also consider your neighbours. Smoke can be a real nuisance and this is especially the case if you’re trying to enjoy some fresh air, or it’s blowing into your home.”