What we know so far

A volunteer firefighter from the south of France suspected of having started forest fires which ravaged 1,200 hectares has been taken into custody.

The firefighter is suspected of having started several fires in the Hérault which led to a larger fire and massive destruction.

If found guilty, the man faces 15 years in prison and a €150,000 fine.

What do we know about the suspect so far?

The suspect is 36 or 37 years old and was elected deputy councilor of his village, Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière. He has two children and has been a volunteer firefighter for twenty years.

He is suspected of being the cause of several of the fires that have affected the department over the past three years. This includes in particular the fire of May 22 in the town of Saint-Privat, and of July 21 on a road leading to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière.

He is also suspected of having started four other fires on July 26 and 27 near the village.

He admitted to setting the fires, but it is unclear how many he started. However, it is not believed to be linked to the Great Gignac Fire, which started on July 26.

He was arrested after witnesses placed his vehicle near several fire starting points.

The man has so far said he has set the fires as a way to gain social recognition, to escape ‘an oppressive family atmosphere’ and for the adrenaline rush when he is later called upon to help to extinguish the flames.

In a 2021 interview with Journal Toulousain, he said he was “passionate” about his job as a volunteer firefighter, but admitted he felt “excited” when called in to help put out a fire.

He said: “When we’re called in for a fire start there’s fear of course, but mostly we’re driven by adrenaline and the desire to save our campaign. We’re all addicted. Some people might even say that we are a little crazy!

The decision to question him and place him in police custody was taken by a judge of freedoms and detention, in accordance with a requisition from the Montpellier prosecutor’s office, said the prosecution.

After 48 hours in police custody, the suspect must be brought before a judge. The prosecutor will require the opening of a file for “destruction of forests, moors, scrubland or plantations of others in conditions likely to expose people to bodily harm”.

Resident reaction

A longtime resident of the village said she was shocked to learn the man was suspected of the crime. She told BFMTV“He is a very discreet and polite man. I don’t understand people who can do such a thing.

Another said: “How can a man who seems normal behave like this? It seems unimaginable.

The village mayor, Bernard Jahnich, said: “We are really surprised. He knows the terrain perfectly. In summer he helped patrol, in winter he helped clear vegetation. He was a committed volunteer. We never thought he would be a suspect.

The fire station chief said all of the man’s former colleagues were shocked by the arrest.

It comes as several major fires in France in recent days have been attributed to arson.

The risk of wildfires remains high in the country as drought levels continue and another heat wave is forecast for next week.

Forest fire in the Var

Yesterday evening (July 28), the Var firefighters were called to a fire linked to an electrical transformer at the EDF power plant in Boutre near Vinon-sur-Verdon.

Significant resources are devoted to firefighting, as the transformer contains 20,000 liters of oil.

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