FIRES which decimated swathes of forestry and grassland across Gwent have been described as “devastating” by the region’s fire chief.

More than 1,500 grass fires were tackled across south Wales between May and July, with 714 incidents happening across Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly.

The total number of incidents rose by 302 per cent during an unprecedented prolonged period of warm weather.

Huw Jakeway, chief fire officer at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, told an authority meeting that the figures revealed the challenge faced by crews during the summer.

“Despite heightened activity on 999 call handling and incident management due to extreme weather conditions, our firefighters and joint control staff faced this challenge, over many weeks, with the highest standard of professionalism,” he said on Monday.

“I am proud of the hard work and commitment they have all demonstrated while continuing to keep our communities safe.”

Firefighters were called to deal with several deliberate fires on Twmbarlwm mountain in Caerphilly county borough, an area where incidents accounted for 18 per cent of the total number of fires.

READ MORE: There were more than 700 Gwent grass fires during the summer months

Natural Resources Wales say the damage caused to 250 hectares of forestry on Twmbarlwm would cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Mr Jakeway said: “While the financial cost of tackling such a situation is evident, it is important that we also consider the wider impact and cost to our communities.”

“The cost attributed to the destruction of land, the tragic loss of wildlife we have witnessed and the subsequent impact on local eco systems, is not so easy for us to estimate.

“What is clear is that the impact has been devastating.”

Andrew Thomas, the assistant chief fire officer, paid testament to the firefighters who dealt with the fires and praised the joint fire control team who took more than 30,000 calls from May to July.

He said the service is looking to work with land owners and land managers and have programmes running in schools and colleges to help with early intervention and prevention of grass fires.