French gendarmes have arrested 48 people in connection with forest fires started this summer, with 12 people already having been charged with crimes and facing up to two years in prison.
The gendarmerie nationale confirmed the number to AFP today (Friday, September 23), after a summer that was particularly marked by a number of severe wildfires, especially in the south west.
Of the 48 people arrested or suspected, 12 have already been charged with crimes that could be punished by up to two years in prison. The most serious charges have been against a man who was arrested in August, and found guilty of setting a series of fires in Gironde.
Other suspects include a 44-year-old man who admitted to having started fires that destroyed 1,200 hectares in Ardèche, and a 33-year-old former volunteer firefighter in Hérault, who is now set to appear in court in Béziers.
Lieutenant Colonel Marie-Laure Pezant, gendarmerie spokesperson, said: “We have very varied profiles, some young, some minors, some retired; all socio-economic backgrounds are represented. Most are men.
“Some have a weaker psychological profile, and some have mental health issues.”
Medical investigations are ongoing, partly to distinguish pyromaniacs from arsonists. The former set fires to satisfy a personal ‘impulse’ or for fun, while the latter set fires for a specific reason or motive.
National forest office l'Office national des forêts estimates that 90% of wildfires are caused by humans, and 30% are started deliberately.
Due to the overwhelmingly rural nature of most fires that happened this summer, the gendarmerie is managing most of the cases, except for the fire in La Teste-de-Buch (Gironde), which was handed over to the police for further criminal investigation.
In 2022 so far, more than 65,000 hectares of forest and vegetation have been destroyed. This is a record for this time of the year.
Satellite data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) shows that Gironde was particularly badly-hit, with 30,000 hectares destroyed, of which 21,000 were in Landiras alone.
The Landiras blaze was one of the worst of the season so far. It spread fast and burned for more than a week, restarting several times.
Even as summer retreats and autumn arrives, wildfires are still continuing to cause damage, especially in the south west.