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Copters keep the firebugs at bay

Police helicopters are circling the skies above Flintshire's schools on the look-out for young firebugs and vandals. The air operation has been deemed a success half-way through the summer holidays, with not one school fire reported in the county.

But elsewhere in Wales fires are raging, with a major blaze causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to Barry comprehensive in the Vale of Glamorgan just last week.

Flintshire has previously been a hotspot for school-age arsonists, along with Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. But Peter Wynne, senior housing officer from the council's anti-social behaviour unit, said early reports of the air patrol's success were promising. Police have been working with school caretakers and neighbourhood watch co-ordinators as part of a wider multi-agency anti-arson operation called Gingerbread.

Mr Wynne said: "Children appear to find the idea of a policeman in the sky quite intimidating, and reports coming back to us suggest those who might start a fire are thinking twice about it."

The Assembly government has been piloting a programme of installing sprinkler systems in schools after new figures revealed soaring school arson rates last year. Edwina Hart, minister for social justice and regeneration, announced pound;500,000 for new arson-reduction teams involving police across Wales's three firefighting areas earlier this year.

But officers in mid and west Wales fire and rescue service have been called out to blazes in the grounds of three Swansea schools since the end of term. They say there is still a long way to go to get the anti-arson message across, with known hotspots being neglected.

A spokesperson from the service said: "More resources are needed to attack the arson craze that strains resources over the summer."

Firefighters have tackled 10 school fires across Wales since pupils broke up for their summer holidays last month.

The second-largest school fire in Wales this year gutted a dining-room and seriously damaged a music studio and classrooms at Barry comprehensive last week. Police are treating the incident as suspicious and CCTV footage was being examined as TES Cymru went to press.

It follows a major blaze at Penyrheol comprehensive, in Swansea, which caused damage estimated at millions of pounds in April. The school is set to re-open next term.

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