Forest fires: nearly 50 suspected arsonists arrested this summer

A total of 48 people suspected of being the cause of several fires were arrested this summer, marked by large forest fires, particularly in the south-west of the country, AFP learned on Friday from the gendarmerie.

In this provisional assessment, twelve people have already been sentenced to terms of up to two years in prison and “more than ten” have been placed in pre-trial detention, detailed the gendarmes. Among them, “all social backgrounds are represented”, detailed to AFP Lieutenant-Colonel Marie-Laure Pezant, spokesperson for the national gendarmerie. “We found young people, minors, retirees, mostly men,” she added. Some have “a weaker psychological profile, sometimes mental disorders”, continued the officer, there are also “a few” firefighters but “it’s not the majority”.

“Snail Technique”

Due to its location in rural areas, the gendarmerie was seized of the overwhelming majority of investigations – 43 files were entrusted to it – concerning major forest fires, with the notable exception of that concerning the fire at La Teste- de-Buch (Gironde) entrusted to the police. “At the height of summer, on August 13, we had up to 500 gendarmes deployed on 18 fires,” said Marie-Laure Pezant.

The gendarmerie notably mobilized its criminal identification technicians within the cells of Research into the causes and circumstances of the fire (RCCI), alongside firefighters and ONF agents. These investigators practice “the snail technique”, image the spokesperson, from the supposed starting point of the fire to a 3D mapping of the burned area produced from drones and helicopters. “Fire does not erase everything, we always manage to find traces, DNA or objects to go back to the author”, such as a broken bottle or a lighter, insists Marie-Laure Pezant.

“Green Policemen”

At the end of July, near Orange (Vaucluse), the analysis of a cigarette butt thus made it possible to trace a person who will be judged soon. When the technique is lacking, it is human intelligence that can prove decisive. “When there is a start of fire, we have people who observe and the information comes back to us very quickly”, underlines the lieutenant-colonel. Thus, the gendarmes were able to quickly trace the trail of a young man suspected of being the cause of two fires in July in the Pyrénées-Orientales, thanks to witnesses who recognized his car leaving the scene before the departure of the flames.

In order to improve the work of judicial investigation, particularly in arson cases, the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin announced in August that he wanted to launch “3,000 green gendarme posts”, without specifying whether he would involved job creations or reassignments after training.

The Gironde, which is home to part of the largest softwood forest in Europe, was particularly affected with 30,000 hectares going up in smoke, including more than 21,000 for the Landiras sector alone. During the summer, up to 10,000 French firefighters per day were mobilized by the fires, which have already ravaged more than 65,000 hectares of forest, a record at this stage of the year since the start of the census of satellite data in 2006, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis). According to the National Forestry Office (ONF), nine out of ten fires are of human origin and three out of ten, on average, are intentional.

letelegramme Fr Trans

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