A spate of wildfires along the Moray coast has led to the amount of deliberate blazes in the region hitting a five-year high.
Emergency crews were called out to 122 incidents between April 2018 and March 2019 – nearly double the 69 recorded during the previous 12 months.
And yesterday there were calls for offenders who put lives in danger to face the full force of the law.
The fire service has blamed a combination of last year’s exceptionally warm summer and anti-social behaviour for the sharp increase.
Crews were repeatedly called to the cost between Lossiemouth and Burghead where grassland blazes forced homes to be evacuated and helicopters were used to douse the flames.
Personnel were diverted from other duties for days at a time to further dampen down areas in the aftermath, while remaining vigilant for re-ignition.
Concerns about wildfires have continued into this year with emergency crews tackling large-scale blazes on Speyside and on moors south of Forres.
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has called for stiffer penalties to deter offenders.
He said: “These are very disturbing figures and it beggars belief that there could be so many deliberate fires.
“Our fire fighters, and the members of the other emergency services, do a fantastic job in keeping members of the public safe.
“They should not be having to cope with fires that are apparently caused by people acting so irresponsibly.”
A report has been prepared by the fire service for next week’s meeting of Moray Council’s police and fire and rescue services committee.
The figures reveal the Heldon and Laich ward, which covers the coastal communities of Lossiemouth, Hopeman and Burghead, accounts for almost the entire 76% increase.
It experienced 51 incidents of deliberate fireraising last year with the Fochabers Lhanbryde ward recording the second-highest total with 16.
The fire service report details that 95 of the 122 incidents involved either grassland or rubbish, with the remaining 27 involving vehicles, commercial woodland and private properties.
Meanwhile, the amount of all fires involving grassland and rubbish, including those started accidentally, rose from 117 to 270 during the same period, with 105 of them reported in the Heldon and Laich area.
Tim Eagle, leader of Moray Council’s Conservative group, said: “There were some very worrying incidents along the coast, when extensive tracts of gorse were reduced to ashes and nearby homes were put at risk.
“These fires are a threat to lives and property and the perpetrators should feel the full force of the law.”
The report from the fire service reveals the region continues to remain below the Scottish average, despite the significant increase.
Fire chiefs said they would continue to publicise the dangers to reduce the amount of incidents.
The figures will be debated by Moray Council’s police and fire and rescue services committee on Thursday.
The fire service report says: “In Moray, evidence reflects that deliberate fires are a problem in specific areas that can be linked to anti-social behaviour.
“Partnership working is key to reducing this type of incident and with the assistance of partners and communities we have reduced deliberate fires in areas where historically we have seen the highest level of activity.”