Three women and a man who is identified in French media as being British helped with the arrest of an arsonist in south-west France on Saturday night (September 17).
The fire began in the Forêt de la Double on the border between Charente and Gironde.
The Périgueux public prosecutor, Solène Belaouar, who is in charge of the investigation, said the man, aged 45, lived nearby and was a former volunteer fireman.
He was arrested and held in a ‘drunk tank’ on Saturday night before having his detention extended on Sunday while investigations continue.
He has admitted arson and says he cannot explain his actions.
The procurer of Périgueux said this morning that he would be transferred from Montpon-Ménestérol to Périgueux, where she would ask that he be detained overnight before appearing in court on Tuesday as part of a fast-track procedure.
“This man, who has only been in trouble for road traffic offences before, is a former volunteer fireman, who lives in the region,” she said in a statement.
Video of the confrontation with the man posted on Facebook
“He admits deliberately lighting the fire in the maize field, in an impulsive gesture which he cannot explain.
“However, he denies that he caused the other fires in the area which have taken place this summer.”
On Tuesday the man will face accusations of starting the one fire and also appear for road traffic offences committed at the same time, relating to being drunk in charge of a vehicle.
The Briton, David James Kite, posted a video of the confrontation with the man on Facebook. In it, the man is seen illuminated by car headlights and trying to protect his eyes from them, or to hide his face.
A voice in French says: “We have found the b****** who sets fires all around Montpon and in [the] neighbouring surroundings.
“Hey, you want to do that [set fires] where I live? You want to do that near me, where I have my child? You’re lucky, my chap, you’re lucky [that] I am someone good…”
According to France Bleu radio, three young women were driving through the Forêt de la Double when they saw a man starting a fire in a field of maize.
The man saw he had been spotted and tried to get in his vehicle while the three women started to film the scene and flash their headlights at on-coming vehicles to get help.
Among those who stopped was Mr Kite, who lives 200 metres away. He managed to block the man’s vehicle at the exit of the field.
The gendarmes, who were mobile in the area, quickly arrived and arrested the man.
Several fires in recent weeks
The area around Montpon has had many fires set in the past six weeks, like the part of the southern Charente around 60 km away where a giant fire began last week, with 16 different start points along two roads.
The Forêt de la Double is a large forest 40 km long and 20 km wide, with a few farms in it but mainly full mixed trees, swamps and ponds. A small part is state-owned, but most is privately-owned.
Many people in the area believe it is haunted although historians say this relates from the time when it was squatted in by outlaws from Bordeaux, who spread stories of witches in the forest to keep people away from them.