A group of antisocial arsonists have terrorised Wigan firefighters throughout the weekend, causing them to fear for their safety.
Since Friday night fire crews from Hindley have been called out to the same spot on the canal towpath in Ince four times, but have been verbally abused, threatened and taunted by a gang of yobs while trying to do their job.
The gang, most of whom are believed to be in their late teens or early 20s, have been torching barriers put in place by authorities while the canal is being drained.
Crews were first called to the spot on the public footpath on Friday night and then again on Saturday morning at around 6am.
“We turned up at about 6.20am on Saturday to a group of young men and women who had obviously been drinking,” said watch manager Mark Anderson. “They were burning traffic cones and someone has pushed all of the safety barriers down there into the water.
“They were shouting ‘why don’t you get a proper job?’ and making racist remarks about the colour of the smoke.
“They really weren’t very nice at all.”
Later the same day, at around 10am, another set of Hindley firefighters were called to the same spot - where they were greeted by three “highly intoxicated” men who began to hurl abuse at them.
Crew commander Westwell said: “There was a lot of verbal abuse and threats being made.
“At one point one of them put his hands on me and started poking me in the chest. It was a very unpleasant situation to be in. He then started knocking on my helmet so I pushed him away.
“Some of the things they were saying I couldn’t even repeat - they were personal things. Things about my wife who they haven’t even met.
“They were highly intoxicated so I think they had been out drinking all night and through the morning.
“As we were putting the fire out one of them was chucking bits onto it to keep it going. “
Firefighters noticed that the gang had been setting fire to the rubber parts which hold the metal barriers in place.
On the fourth call-out which occurred at around 6pm on Saturday evening, the group had more than tripled in size.
“When we went back there were 12 of them waiting for us,” added crew commander Westwell. “There was only three of us.
“They were all wearing black and they had their hoods up. We had to wait 20m away and couldn’t even get to the fire to put it out.
“They were shouting ‘come on then try to put the fire out’ and swearing at us.
“We requested police but it soon became clear that they weren’t going to make it in time so I got my phone out and started filming them - that worked and made them clear off.
“It is a serious situation, while we are there dealing with this we can’t be out attending house fires or road traffic collisions, where people really need us.
“We have had to increase the pre-determined attendance for that area so now we will have to send two engines instead of one to each call-out there, to make sure we are safe.”
Anyone with information about the incidents or who may know the individuals involved should contact police on 101.