ARSONISTS are believed to be behind a spate of fires on a Burnley industrial estate which destroyed 15 tonnes of rubber to be used on children’s playgrounds around the country.

Fire crews and police were called to several incidents of fire, or vandalism, on the Chestnut Rise Business Park, in Smallshaw Lane, over the weekend.

The crime spree began at 2.30am on Saturday when fire crews were called to RTC Safety Surfaces, which supplies rubber floors for outdoor play areas.

Clouds of smoke had been spotted drifting across the M65.

Speaking yesterday, Jamie Southern, operations director at the firm, said: “We’ve spent the whole day trying to clean it up, and we are still only halfway there.

“We also had a fire in a skip which was started on Sunday, and there have been other incidents in the area this weekend.

“It is just mindless vandalism.

“They think they are having a laugh, but we’ve had five or six guys cleaning up, when they should be using the material for play areas across the country.”

After Saturday’s incident, Steve Harrison, watch manager at Burnley Fire Station, said: “A large amount of crumb rubber used for the manufacture of children’s play areas was well alight on arrival.

“A further two fires were within the immediate vicinity, one of which was in danger of impinging on a large bank of cylinders of flammable gas. The fire near to the gas cylinders was quickly dealt with, from a safe distance. The fire crews then spent almost two hours dealing with what was a difficult fire to extinguish.”

Fire crews were called out to the business park for a third time over the weekend, at 6.50pm on Sunday, after reports of a fire in a skip.

Gary Hargreaves, watch manager at Burnley Fire Station on Sunday, said: “We’re treating this recent spate as suspicious.

“Both ourselves and the police will be launching an investigation into this.”