AN arson reduction team has been working with young people in villages near Durham following a spike in the number of fires been set near schools in the area.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service started the project after 41 fires were set in villages to the west of Durham, including Bearpark, Esh Winning and Brandon, in April.

Working with the Framwellgate Moor and Meadowfield neighbourhood policing team, the fire service's arson reduction team has been targeting youths suspected of being involved.

Since then, the number of fires reduced to 23 in May, 13 in June and 9 in July.

David Cuthbertson, arson reduction officer, said: "The majority of fires were starting at around 3pm and continued until 10pm, with a lot around schools and in woodland near schools.

"Part of the work is getting into those schools and we've been working with PCSOs because they are the ones who are in communities, building relationships."

Working with PCSO Paul Gilroy, the team has been educating young people about the consequences of fire, the impact on the service's resources and how it monitors data in relation to where and when fires happen.

They have been focussing on "secondary" fires, which involve setting alight low value items like rubbish or scrub.

Mr Cuthbertson added: "We were trying to make them aware that it's not just a small fire. If we get a 999 call we have to go and put it out.

"We might get called to four or five in one evening and every time an appliance has to be sent out, which affects what resources we have if there's another emergency.

"It's not multiple big fires, it might just be a couple of rubbish bags but it's a big problem from the service if the numbers keep going up.

"To them its just a harmless fire."

He added: "It's a new collaboration but we have seen a significant reduction in secondary fires."

Targeted work has also been taking place in Newton Aycliffe, and will be rolled out to other parts of County Durham and Darlington in the coming months.