FIRE crews tackled more than 40 grass fires across Hampshire with fears some could have been started deliberately.

The public is being warned to take extra care when visiting open grassland and woods after a rise in the number of 999 calls to the service over the weekend.

In Southampton alone fire crews tackled more than 30 fires leaving large areas of common land wiped out as the flames have taken hold quickly due to the dry parched land Dozens of firefighters tackled a blaze that broke out at Netley Common just off Kanes Hill. Several hundred square metres of heath land were destroyed in the fire, according to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Firefighters battled to bring the fire under control using hoses and a water tender due to the location of the fire which started at around 7.30pm on Sunday.

Crew manager at Hightown fire station Neal Hamett said: “It is difficult to say whether it was started deliberately or due to someone being careless with a cigarette or something like that.

“The fact is the grass is so dry the fire spreads quickly, if the wind had been blowing in a different direction it could well have spread to homes in the area.”

He added: “These fires take up a lot of resources which each time means emergency responses are being used when there may be a need for them elsewhere.”

Crew manager Gavin Hackney at St Mary's fire station said his watch had dealt with 30 call outs to grass fires over the course of the weekend shifts.

Youngsters are believed to have been responsible for setting a fire at Peartree Common in Southampton on Saturday night where a petrol can was found close to the seat of the fire.

In the New Forest crews turned out to eight reports of open grass fires over the weekend, in the Fareham and Gosport the number was six with one reported in Winchester.

Station Manager Glenn Bowyer of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's Community Safety team said: “In the current hot, dry conditions we are asking the public to be extra vigilant and follow a few simple steps to prevent fires, such as extinguishing cigarettes properly and not throwing them on the ground or out of car windows.

“Dealing with these small fires places a huge demand on our services, which can in turn challenge our ability to provide an effective response to more serious incidents."

Hampshire police are currently not investigating any of the fires because no property was damaged and nobody was hurt, a spokesman said.