Cigarette butt likely cause of fatal south of France wildfire

Investigators believe it started near a motorway rest area. The blaze has killed two people and firefighters are still battling to keep it under control in unfavourable weather conditions

20 August 2021
Forest fire burns on dry ground.

The fire has been raging in the Var and has killed two people so far, with firefighters still working to put it out completely Pic: Bumble Dee / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

A cigarette butt discarded by a member of the public is the most likely cause of the huge fire in Var, south of France that has killed two people, initial investigations suggest. However, this is yet to be confirmed as researchers continue their work.

Two people died in the blaze in the Maures massif, and the flames have destroyed more than 7,100 hectares of vegetation.

The deceased are a 54-year-old local guesthouse owner named Olivier, and a 32-year-old holidaymaker named Virginie, from Ile-de-France. Both bodies were found in a house that was destroyed by the fire in Val-de-Gilly.

In addition, 26 people have been injured.

More than 1,100 firefighters and 250 fire engines from all over France have been battling since Monday evening to quell the blaze. It is under control, but not yet “out”, firefighters have said.

Five Bombardier helicopters have so far made 300 drops over the area. Three Canadairs made 39 drops; three Dash made three fire retardant drops; while the Super Puma aircraft made 49.

Initial investigations suggest that it started near a motorway service station, a source close to the case told Le Parisien today (Friday, August 20). There is a motorway service station near the commune of Gonfaron, on the A57, which was the first to be affected by the fire.

However, other scenarios have not been ruled out, and the cigarette butt theory has not yet been officially confirmed.

The Var gendarmerie appealed on Twitter for possible witnesses to come forward in a bid to help them determine the circumstances surrounding the start of the fire.

The inquiry is being led by prosecutors in Draguignan.

The fire did not get worse overnight from August 19-20, firefighters said, but they are still on-site and are staying “hyper-alert” to the situation. 

Weather conditions are still prone to causing a “restart” of the blaze, they said. Wind gusts may increase, and no significant rain is forecast in the areas for 10-15 days.

Colonel Grohin, director of the emergency fire departmental service, told Nice Matin last night: “Tonight, everyone will stay in the field. We're going to work in the cold because the humidity will rise. 

“We have to drown all the stumps, everything that is burning. In some ways, the situation is under control, but we have to be careful. It will take several days before the fire is considered to be out.”

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