FIRE and police officers say youngsters are risking serious injury after a spate of arsons involving gas canisters and aerosols in a Hampshire community.

Around half a dozen separate incidents of fires being deliberately set using flammable materials have been reported in the past two months in Valley Park near Eastleigh.

Recent patrols have discovered the remains of a number of deliberate fires set in wooded areas including Zionshill Copse where discarded materials including gas canisters, aerosols and lighter fuel cans have also been found.

Fire officers have already been visiting nearby schools warning pupils of the dangers of starting fires deliberately while patrols are being stepped up in the area as the authorities fear the problem could escalate over the summer holidays.

A community day is also being staged this month at Knightwood Leisure Centre to help hammer home the message to youngsters and their parents.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s community safety officer, Paul Francis said: “With the summer holidays nearly upon us, we would encourage all parents to remind their children of the dangers of starting fires and to ensure they are aware that deliberately starting a fire, of any size, is treated as arson, the consequences of which can be extremely serious.”

He said that both police, fire and council would be increasing patrols over the forthcoming weeks in the area, and were urging local residents to report any suspicious behaviour to the police immediately.

Mr Francis said: “The woods around the Knightwood area have historically been a target for arson activity due to its many secluded spots. Starting fires, particularly those involving exploding materials such as canisters, pose a serious risk of injury.

“The wooded area itself is also extremely dry at the moment and a small fire could quickly develop into a much larger blaze, igniting surrounding grassland and bushes.”

Mr Francis added that while resources were dealing with the deliberate fires, they were taking away the service’s ability to respond to an emergency situation elsewhere.

“The demands placed upon the fire service in dealing with these kinds of needless incidents often stretches resources, challenging our ability to provide an effective response to those that are more serious, perhaps life- threatening,” he said.

The community event on Saturday, July 12, is being held from 11am to 1pm and will include opportunities to meet local police and fire crews, bicycle security coding and a range of fun activities aimed at people of all ages.