FIRE chiefs have called in university researchers to try to find out why parts of the region have such high arson rates.

Despite deliberate fires across Teesside being reduced by 35 per cent over the last five years, Cleveland continues to have one of the highest rates in England and Wales.

Cleveland Fire Brigade wants to try and understand what motivates people on Teesside to set fire to things such as grassland and rubbish.

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Now Teesside University’s Centre for Realist Criminology is to look into what causes young people to become firebugs.

Researchers will interview people aged between nine and 21 who live in areas heavily affected by fire setting to gain a greater understanding of the causes.

Professor Steve Hall, director of Teesside Centre for Realist Criminology, will lead the research project, along with research associate Rob Crow.

“Fire-setting may sound trivial to some, but it is still incredibly dangerous and takes away valuable time and resources from the fire brigade,” said Professor Hall.

“Every time Cleveland Fire Brigade is called out to deal with an incident of fire setting, it is putting people’s lives at risk.

“We need to clarify and get a clear understanding of the causes so that Cleveland Fire Brigade can enhance its intervention strategies.

“The reasons could be environmental – Cleveland has a lot of derelict areas, cultural – something that young people do for acceptance, socio-economic – most incidents take place in deprived areas, or psychological – people have a fascination with fire.

“We will be interviewing young people and talking to focus groups to pinpoint areas of interest and find out why deliberate fire setting is so rife in this area.”

The researchers are due to report back in July.

Phil Lancaster, Cleveland Fire Brigade’s director of community protection, said: “We have made excellent progress over the last decade in reducing the damage that deliberate fire setting causes our communities, working alongside our partners including the police and local authorities.

“We are committed to continuing this progress and are delighted to have engaged the knowledge and expertise of Teesside University to help us to understand what motivates the people who start fires deliberately in Cleveland.”