FIRE chiefs have issued a stark warning about Mansfield's growing list of derelict buildings — they pose a deadly threat to lives and cost taxpayers money.
And they have called for action to tackle the town's biggest problem sites, which are a magnet for Mansfield's drug addicts and homeless population as well as a playground for tearaway youths.
They say many of the buildings, which are privately owned, are not secure and it is the emergency services that have to deal with the resulting vandalism and fires.
Now, Nottinghamshire Fire Service has joined calls for new legislation to help crack the problem — with bosses pointing out that the last six firefighters to be killed on duty in this country all died in derelict buildings.
Says John Topham, head of the fire service's arson task force: "It's a massive, massive problem. We are trying really hard to get these things addressed — we keep banging the drum."
Figures show that last year, there were 250 derelict building fires across the county and 20 per cent of those were in Mansfield.
"While we are tied up dealing with a derelict property our crews are not available for road accidents and house fires," said Mr Topham.
His comments come just a week after up to 40 firefighters spent 20 hours battling two blazes at the crumbling former Mansfield Brewery buildings.
The site is currently a massive problem for police and fire chiefs, with up to 40 people sleeping there each night, but there are other sites across the town that are also causing concern — including well-known trouble spot Brownlow Road, the derelict Mansfield Shoe Co building on Stockwell Gate and the empty Mansfield General Hospital.
In addition, there is a 'relatively unknown site' — which Chad has agreed to keep secret — that fire chiefs say is filled with highly flammable material that would pose a very real threat to nearby houses if vandals and addicts start to target it.
Added Mr Topham: "We keep meeting the same drug addicts and homeless at various sites — some of them we know on a first name basis."
He said drop-in centres or other facilities were needed for the addicts to move them away from the derelict buildings.
This week, Supt Ian Waterfield, of Mansfield Police, backed the fire service's concerns and admitted drug treatment programmes are needed for the hard-core group of addicts who move from one derelict site to another.
Mansfield mayor Tony Egginton says all parties must work together to ensure the buildings are not left empty for years like the controversial Mansfield General Hospital site.