Man arrested over 2021 south-east France wildfire that killed two

The suspect admits throwing away a cigarette butt directly before the devastating fire started close to a motorway rest area, say investigators

A photo of a man smoking a cigarette outside
The arrested man admits to smoking at the service station at the exact time that the fire started. Photo for illustration only
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A man has been arrested on suspicion of starting a wildfire in the south east of France that killed two people and destroyed 7,000 hectares of vegetation.

The fire, which started on August 16, 2021, in Gonfaron (Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), is thought to have started due to someone throwing away a cigarette butt at the service station Aire de Sigues on the A57 motorway.

The suspect is from Var and in his 40s. Considered to be an ‘outsider’, he admits that he had been smoking at the service station at the exact date and time at which the fire began.

His arrest has been confirmed by the Draguignan prosecutor, who has been working on an inquiry into the blaze since August 2021. The possible charges include “involuntary fire caused by violation of an obligation of care, causing death”.

Using CCTV footage, gendarmerie investigators were able to establish that the man was the only person at the service station at the moment when the fire began.

When questioned, the man initially said that he had “thrown his cigarette butt in the toilet” before going back on his word and swearing that he had thrown it away towards the motorway”, the prosecutor said.

If found guilty, the man risks seven years in jail and a €100,000 fine.

Two people were killed in the blaze and around 20 were injured. The flames caused 10,000 people to be evacuated, and 400 houses to be affected. The fire was only put out completely 10 days later.

Its intensity and duration make the incident one of the biggest fires in Var in 30 years.

Wildfires have become an increased problem in France in recent years, especially in summer 2021 and 2022. Last year alone, 48 people were arrested in connection with starting wildfires over the summer.

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