FIRE crews in Hampshire are dealing with 12 per cent more fires than they were a year ago, new data has shown.

The number of false alarms that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to has also increased by 5 per cent, according to Home Office statistics released this month.

The data shows that in 2018-19, crews across the county responded to 4,427 fires, compared to to 3,946 the year before.

The number has steadily risen over the last five years, standing at 3,709 in 2014-15.

However, HFRS attended far more false alarms than actual fires last year.

In total, they attended 7,122 false alarms, of which 277 were malicious. Whilst the number of malicious false calls has reduced (from 310), the overall number of false alarms rose (from 6,780 in 2017-18).

The service also saw a seven per cent reduction in the number of non-fire callouts they had - from 4,504 to 4,198.

Across England, the total number of incidents has fallen.

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Roy Wilsher, has welcomed the findings; but warns that now is not the time for complacency, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Fire and Rescue Services across the UK have taken on a number of nationally agreed additional activities; highlighting they are ready, willing and able to support the response to COVID-19.

Mr Wilsher said: “While I am pleased to see the reduction in the number of incidents attended, it is vital we do not become complacent. Fire and Rescue Service are working in unprecedented times; at this stage, we do not know how COVID-19 will continue to impact our communities and the future numbers or types of incidents.

“It is clear however that the excellent prevention and protection work undertaken by fire and rescue services has contributed to these reductions, which must be recognised and praised. Unfortunately, we have had to draw back from a number of these activities to adhere to social distancing and other safeguards. We will not know the true impact for some time.

“While we are planning and modelling for a return to a ‘new normal’, COVID-19 has shown it is essential that we plan for risk, not just demand. We must be ready for infrequent high impact events, as well as the day-to-day activity. Maintaining this resilience can only support the entire UK in future years.

“The stark reality is we need to ensure services can maintain a resilient response while planning for this new normality in unprecedented times. There are a number of unknown factors which we need to be able to respond to and understand.

“We also need to consider the role of fire and rescue services in future, incident command and responding to emergencies is in our DNA and I am sure there is much more to support UK resilience.”