2 boys in custody suspected of arson over French wildfires

AP News
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Posted: Jul 28, 2017 12:03 PM
2 boys in custody suspected of arson over French wildfires

BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS, France (AP) — Two teenage boys went before a judge Friday on suspicion of deliberately starting one of the wildfires that devastated parts of southeastern France and Corsica this week, an official said.

Authorities warned Friday the danger is far from over even though they have tamed most of the blazes that scorched over 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of land, destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of thousands in the worst fires that France has seen in over a decade.

The boys, both aged 16, were stopped Wednesday by police who believed that arson was behind the blaze in Carro, west of Marseille, where 150 hectares (370 acres) of land were burnt, Aix-en-Provence Deputy Police Prosecutor Remy Avon told The Associated Press on Friday.

Carro lies to the west of the Cote d'Azur region where blazes have laid waste to forests overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. But some 230 firefighters this week also battled the Carro fires, which damaged houses, injured an emergency worker and forced the evacuation of residents.

Avon said the adolescents also face charges of theft and could face a prison sentence of 15 years.

Francois Arizzi, the mayor of the French town of Bormes-Les-Mimosas, a tourist magnet in the Var region on the Cote d'Azur that saw one of the most dramatic wildfires, is among several officials to say some of the five days of wildfires were caused by arsonists.

"We have to stop closing our eyes to the facts. We need to find the persons responsible and punish them so that they don't do it again," the mayor told reporters.

Between Monday and Thursday, firefighters were deployed to fight 177 blazes in the vast Var region.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meeting in Paris with Portugal's prime minister, said the two discussed the possibility of sharing equipment and manpower in fire crises.

A wildfire last month in central Portugal killed 64 people in one night, and Portuguese firefighters are currently battling a string of blazes.

Meanwhile, a 41-year-old man has admitted to starting a wildfire by accident with a metal-cutting device.

That fire, in Peynier, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Marseille, burned 72 hectares (178 acres) of vegetation before being contained by a team of over 300 firefighters. The man will go before a judge Friday afternoon and could face up to five years in prison.

The fiercest fires have been tamed in Riviera towns such as Bormes-Les-Mimosas, with more than 12,000 evacuated residents and tourists now able return to their homes and holiday places.

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"Everything is back to normal. The vacation has restarted and it's really a great feeling," said Katherine Mercier, an American tourist from Atlanta.

But it's not a return to normality for many others. The burnt-out and ravaged landscapes have already hurt tourism in the Riviera town, some say. It was too early to measure the overall impact of the blazes.

The picturesque hilltop town of Bormes escaped the blazes, but large swaths of the wooded Bormes region were devastated.

Senior officials warned Friday that the situation remained perilous in certain places.

"In Corsica, the fires are starting up in a sporadic way," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters in Paris Friday.

He said one of the fiercest fires, deep in the back country in Artigues, remained out of control.

Collomb said an Italian fire-fighting plane used against the Riviera blazes has now been redeployed back to Italy as the country faces its own fires caused by drought and heat.

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This story has corrected the location of the French town of Carro to say it is not in the Cote d'Azur.

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Adamson reported from Paris