Arson in Shropshire costs the county a staggering Â£6.5 million a year, revealed Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service which is taking action to curb the crime.
Fires are being deliberately set throughout the county in both busy towns and quiet countryside areas with arsonists targeting stolen cars, making repeated attacks on derelict buildings, causing blazes at businesses and at rural farms.
A Shropshire barn fire.
An average of 440 car fires each year cost almost Â£1million pushing up premiums for county motorists while arson attack on farms have risen by 40 per cent over the past two years, said Divisional Officer Mike Ablitt, who is appealing to the public to help cut the county's arson toll.
An Arson Task Force is being formed by the brigade including the creation of a new post of a fire crime officer. The new recruit â€“ experienced in police detection procedures â€“ will be responsible for tackling arson by tracking down the perpetrators and ensuring incidents are drastically reduced across the county.
"The cost to Shropshire through deliberate fires is about Â£6.5 million per year. That money could be used so much more usefully. It is equivalent to providing 20 hospital beds, 200 extra police officers or buying nearly 20 new fire engines. At the moment, it's just going up in smoke," said Mr Ablitt.
"These fires are putting lives at risk. Every time a stolen car is set on fire it leads to a fire appliance being taken away from another possible emergency such as a house fire or road crash.
"We have all got to take action to stop these crimes. Members of the public must be vigilant and call either the police on 08457 444 888 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 if they have any information which will lead to a suspect being charged. Callers can receive a reward for their public action in making that call."
Bosses of county firms are also being urged to play their part by keeping premises secure day and night and checking that combustible materials are kept away from potential risk. Derelict buildings should also be boarded up adequately to keep out the arsonists.
"A few sheets of plywood nailed across windows does nothing to deter children and determined arsonists. Owners really do need to take their duty of care more seriously," said Mr Ablitt.
The Harlescott pub in Shrewsbury was demolished after an arson attack.
Recent blazes have included a number of derelict buildings including five pubs in Telford and Shrewsbury, the Golden Bear factory; Dawley Bingo, and Shrewsbury market hall. Barn fires are the usual target for arsonists in the Autumn.
Fire officer Mike Ablitt.
Less than half of businesses which suffer a serious arson attack never recover and most firms that do continue trading fold within the first year.