Special Report: Pattern of arson attacks at former RAF Upwood site

Fire at Former RAF Upwood site PICTURE: Cambridgeshire Fire

Fire at Former RAF Upwood site PICTURE: Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service - Credit: Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

In the last month, arsonists have targeted the former RAF Upwood site, six times and set traps for firefighters.

A fire at the former RAF Upwood site on May 17 has revealed a pattern of offences going back several years.

The Hunts Post has been working with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service to publish a special report, with detailed information about the arson attacks.

In the last month, arsonists have targeted the former RAF Upwood site, six times and the fire service believes it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured.

MORE: Arsonists target former RAF Upwood site near Ramsey twice in one weekend

The most recent fire happened on Sunday evening (May 17) at 18.09. More than 40 firefighters were called to what was described a “well developed fire” that had spread to the roof of a derelict building.

Crews from Ramsey, Chatteris, Huntingdon, Sawtry, Dogsthorpe, Stanground, Yaxley and Manea all attended the incident.

Fire commander Phil Thacker, manager at Ramsey Fire Station, said: “In the past we have also seen traps set up in these derelict buildings. It is actually very dangerous for us to keep going onto the former RAF Upwood site as there are a huge amount of open manholes in the ground that anyone could fall into.

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“The place is pitch black at night and we have to face many dangers whilst extinguishing the fires.

“We were called on Friday evening, May 15, to deal with another fire and police officers stopped some people who were spotted at the scene and police told us they were from Boston in Lincolnshire.

“So these people had actually travelled a long way to visit this site.

“It is so hard to pinpoint one particular group who maybe starting these fires, as there is no CCTV in place on the site or anyone watching the site.

“I believe it is a mixture of people and groups who are committing these arson crimes.”

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue service along with The Hunts Post also detected not only that six fires had happened in the last month, but these fires seem to occur in April or May.

In 2020, there have been fires on May 17 at 18.09; May 16 at 21.53; May 5 at 18.46; April 28 at 19.36; April 18 at 19.15 and April 17 at 18.52.

In 2019 there were fires on the following dates: April 6 at 20.24; April 11 at 20.03; April 17 at 22.00; April 18 at 13.52; April 22 at 18.19; May 7 at 16.58; May 23 at 0.58.

Even more disturbing is the fact that two fires that were started on April 17 and April 18 2019 were then again on April 17 and April 18 of this year.

The former RAF Upwood site has roots going back to the First World War but is best known as a Second World War bomber base.

The land is roughly 160 acres and the fire service says there are about 150 derelict building on the site.

The former RAF Upwood site was later taken over as a USAF facility, but the Americans pulled out around 25 years ago and vandals moved in.

Former military buildings, which had been intact, were broken into and fittings stolen in spiralling attacks before arsonists started lighting fires on a regular basis, leaving much of the site derelict.

There have been long-running attempts to develop the former airfield for housing, but schemes have floundered largely because of poor rural roads causing access problems to the site.

Developer Evera Homes has outline permission to build up to 160 homes on part of the site, plus two hectares of employment land, which would involve the demolition of some of the former military buildings.

It is now seeking detailed permission for this phase the scheme and up to 450 homes could be built at the airfield.

Station Commander Pete Jones from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “The problem is we don’t know who owns that site, as it is a big piece of land, so several parts of the land will be owned by various owners.

“I don’t think this is going to be last incident we will have to deal with at the site.

“In regards to the fires happening in April and May, this is a peak time when the clocks go forward, so the days are longer and the weather is better.

“This then might attract these individuals to light fires at the Upwood site, which then results in huge blazes that we then have to extinguish.

“It is really hard to detect who these people are who start these fires as there is no CCTV cameras on this site.

“It is up to the landowner to provide these CCTV cameras.

“Our message is simple to these arsonists, don’t do it causes unnecessary amounts of our time, putting out these fires when we could be attending other incidents where people really need our help.

“They are also a danger for the firefighters involved, the smoke they are inhaling is toxic and you are also putting their lives at risk.

“Within these buildings we don’t know what dangers we may be facing, there could be a cylinder that could explode or an aerosol can they could step on.

“It’s also not just about us, it’s also about the arsonists who could become trapped within the building if they are on fire.”