MORE THAN 150 fires were started deliberately in Oxfordshire during the first coronavirus lockdown, figures reveal.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said it was 'shocking' fire services across England had to respond to arson call-outs at a time when they were helping deliver food and medicine to the most vulnerable.

Home Office data shows the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 161 deliberate fires between April and June – an increase of 44per cent on the 112 between January and March.

The figures include all fires thought or suspected to be intentional, including arson, and others such as bonfires and grassfires.

Fire and rescue services across England attended more than 20,000 deliberate fires between April and June, during which the toughest Covid-19 restrictions were imposed.

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This was over 50per cent more than they attended between January and March, and coincided with a period when firefighters were delivering food and medicine and giving support to the police and ambulance services.

NFCC chair Roy Wilsher said: “During these unprecedented times, the fire service is working incredibly hard to ensure the safety of communities across the entire UK, doing their upmost to protect the most vulnerable.

"However, it is shocking and unbelievable that we have seen a rise in deliberate fires, which results in additional pressure on already stretched resources.

"Attending a deliberate fire is time away from attending other life-threatening incidents and carrying out other vital work. Arson is a criminal act and fire services will work with the police in a bid to hold these people to account in a bid to see them successfully prosecuted."

Fire crews in Oxfordshire also had to deal with 254 non-fire incidents between April and June.

Most commonly, the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to road traffic collisions on 57 occasions.

The Home Office said it was grateful for the tireless efforts of firefighters across the country, particularly for their bravery and commitment during this pandemic.

A spokesman said: “Deliberate fires needlessly waste firefighters’ precious time and resources and enforcement action can be taken against those responsible."