A wildfire that broke out in Ardèche (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) and destroyed 900 hectares of land was probably started deliberately, say investigators.
Prosecutors in Privas said that a criminal investigation is underway and a suspect has been arrested and is in police custody in connection with the incident.
The 44-year-old has admitted involvement in starting the fires, BFM TV reports, after numerous witness reports placed him and a Ford 4x4 at the scene where fires began.
More than 600 firefighters attended several fires in the same area of Ardèche, near Aubenas, yesterday (July 27). They were assisted by one Dash and five Canadair water bombers and a helicopter.
The main fire, in Lussas-Lavilledieu, was heading towards the village of Vogüé but was calmer in intensity than others seen in the area, the prefecture said.
It added: “All firefighters remain highly involved on the ground to work to contain the fire.” It is now said to be under control.
Arson is suspected after eight different fire departure locations were identified.
No injuries have been reported but 350 people in the village of Vogüé were evacuated as a precaution.
Two factories and an animal shelter were also evacuated earlier in the day along with a campsite in Saint-Privat in Hérault, Occitanie.
Habitants et vacanciers évacués de #Voguë #Ardèche pour les protéger de l'incendie se restaurent à Lanas avant d'être hébergés pour la nuit chez l'habitant ou à la salle polyvalente . Des lits doivent être apportés par la Croix Rouge pic.twitter.com/YCDXKUGHdz— France Bleu Drôme Ardèche (@francebleuDA) July 27, 2022
Another nearby fire, near the communes of Saint-Bauzille-de-la-Sylve, Gignac, and Aumelas in Hérault, has also been contained, the prefecture said.
It destroyed almost 1,000 hectares. No one was injured and no property was damaged. The 300 people who were evacuated have now been able to return home.
#Herault | Important en cours dans l'#Hérault :— Pompiers de France (@PompiersFR) July 26, 2022
⚠️Ne gênez pas les secours, évacuez sur ordre.
500 pompiers mobilisés + 2 canadairs & 1 Dash
+ 500 hectares brulés pic.twitter.com/5fUZbC0JjP
#Herault | Les feux sont fixés suite à une lutte sans relâche des sapeurs-#pompiers du @SDIS34 renforcés par les moyens aériens de @SecCivileFrance et du département de l'#Herault. pic.twitter.com/lxe9vsVXP3— Pompiers de France (@PompiersFR) July 27, 2022
Police also suspect criminality. Montpellier prosecutor Fabrice Bélargent said: "A judicial investigation has been opened into a criminal hypothesis.”
The prosecutor added that a volunteer firefighter has been arrested, and suspected of involvement in several fires, including one in Saint-Privat in May, and another in Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière. He is still in police custody.
Mayor of Gignac, Jean-François Soto, said: “We think it's criminal. It’s a disaster.”
The mayor added that a Natura 2000 biodiversity preservation zone was nearby. He said: "When you see all the effort we make, all the resources we put in, and then this is the result…it’s really hard.”
It comes after arson was also suspected in two more serious fires, including the Landiras (Gironde) blaze that - together with another in La Teste-de-Buch -destroyed 20,000 hectares of vegetation.