FIREFIGHTERS in Gwent are dreading what they say is the inevitable rise in arson attacks during the current heatwave.

In just 24 hours earlier this week, grass fires in Gwent cost the public £36,300, South Wales Fire Service's assistant divisional officer, Mick Flanagan, head of the brigade's arson reduction unit, says.

And Gwent taxpayers spend £5.4 million every year on combating grass fires, Mr Flanagan adds.

He says 90 per cent of all fires are arson attacks - many set by youths or children during school holidays.

He says: "Rising temperatures precede a marked increase in grass fires, which are a draining and fearsome experience.

"Every firefighter in Gwent will be dreading the inevitable rise in arson cases that will come with this heatwave.

"It's a real drain on their morale. We joined up to help communities, but when you're fighting a fire started by the very people you want to help, you think: 'Why are we doing this?'"

Mr Flanagan says the current heatwave and school holidays will test the effectiveness of a £30,000 arson reduction campaign by the South Wales Fire Service.

He cites high-profile cases such as the Wattsville forest fire, the blaze at Rog-erstone Primary School, which caused £7 million worth of damage and for which two youths are due to stand trial on arson charges, and the arson attack at the disused Robert Price warehouse, in Rodney Road, Newport, last Friday, as examples of situations the service wants to try to prevent in the future.

And Mr Flanagan warned: "It's a matter of time before a kid lights a fire in the woods and then gets trapped.

"Sooner or later one of them will pay with their life."