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Arson suspected in two wildfires in southern France

Separate fires in Ardèche and Hérault are now the subject of criminal investigation (although there is no suggestion that they are linked)

Firefighters have been attending incidents in the south of France, which are now suspected of being as a result of arson Pic: Matt Photography / Shutterstock

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.

Read more: French wildfires: Airbus tests way to adapt plane into water bomber

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.

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.

Police also suspect criminality. Montpellier prosecutor Fabrice Bélargent said: "A judicial investigation has been opened into a criminal hypothesis.”

Read more: New wildfire in south of France: 800 hectares burnt, arson suspected 

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.

Related articles

France wildfires rage on: 20,000 hectares burnt, one arrest made 

Brittany wildfire started by local burning garden waste against rules

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