ARSONISTS who put animals at risk by setting light to straw in a park petting zoo have been branded ‘despicable’.

Crews from Accrington Fire Station said only lucky conditions, and a dog walker sounding the alarm, prevented harm to animals in Rhyddings Park, Oswaldtwistle.

Firefighters, called to the park on Tuesday evening after vandals set fire to a large storage pile of straw, next to where animals were being kept, were able to extinguish the fire before it took hold.

The Pets Corner is run by volunteers at the Friends of Rhyddings Park and feat- ures duck, goats, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs.

Fire station crew manager Chris Archer said: “It’s the section of the park where volunteers keep guinea pigs and rabbits. A pile of straw being kept aside for the animals had been set alight. It was luckily only a small fire due to damp conditions. Getting an early warning from the dog walker before it took hold also helped. If it had gone up entirely, it could have been very nasty and caused a lot of smoke, and spread much faster.”

Oswaldtwistle councillor Peter Britcliffe said: “It is absolutely disgraceful. The Pets Corner is a very much loved part of the park and obviously it would be impossible to watch it constantly.

“I will be speaking to local police officers about patrolling more often, but it is sad that is needed for a children’s pets area. It is completely despicable.”

Ward councillor Colette McCormack said: “I am completely shocked. To do this is just mindless lunacy.”

Gayle Knight, from the Friends group, said: “It is despicable and we will be considering what to do about storage of straw. It would seem that if you leave anything within people’s reach. they get tempted to do something terrible.”