Heatwave wildfire in south of France was arson

The fire was started and spread quickly in the Gard, in temperatures of 45.8°C

A wildfire has destroyed more than 600 hectares of land and 11 houses in the south of France, with one man arrested for allegedly lighting it deliberately.

The land was set on fire in the Gard (Occitanie), and spread quickly due to the intense heat and dryness on Friday June 28. At the time, the department was one of four on Météo France red alert for heatwave (canicule) and had reached temperatures of 45.8°C.

More than 550 firefighters and 180 emergency vehicles worked through the night to put out the blaze, in temperatures of around 30°C.

No-one was injured, but the area of Saint-Gilles in the Camargue was particularly impacted. As well as the 11 homes, four barns and four mobile homes were also damaged, firefighters confirmed.

A man from the nearby commune of Quissac has been suspected of starting the fire. He was arrested on Friday and is now being held at a psychiatric hospital after a psychological assessment.

In a statement, the Gard fire department wrote on Twitter: “In extreme conditions, the objective was to preserve human life and property. Despite this exceptional situation, these objectives were reached…[and] will remain etched on our memory.”

It continued: “Despite the damage, this huge fight by the Gard firefighters, helped by their colleagues in neighbouring departments, allowed us to save hundreds of lives and houses.”

Firefighters in the area are now carrying out further observations of the local area, as weather conditions remain risky. The red alert has been lifted, but 32 departments remain on Météo France orange alert for canicule.

Neighbouring department of Vaucluse also suffered a smaller fire near Sorgues this weekend, with four vehicles and four houses sustaining damage near to the A7 motorway, which was itself closed between Avignon and Orange due to the blaze.

Minister for the interior, Christophe Castaner, has paid homage to the firefighters involved in the Gard and Vaucluse, and warned residents that a high risk of fire remained in the area. He also sent a reminder that wildfire arson can carry a punishment of 15 years in prison, and a fine of 150,000.

He said: “Causing a fire is to put human life in danger, and creates irreversible damage to our environment.”

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