2 teens suspected of arson over French wildfires
Paris — Two teenage boys will go 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 17,300 acres of land, destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of thousands in the worst fires in France in over a decade.
The two boys, both aged 16, were stopped Wednesday by police who believed arson was behind the blaze in Carro, north of Nice, where 370 acres of vegetation were burnt, Aix-en-Provence Deputy Police Prosecutor Remy Avon told The Associated Press Friday.
Some 230 firefighters this week battled the Carro fires, which damaged houses, injured a first responder and forced the evacuation of local residents.
Avon said the adolescents also face charges of theft and could face a prison sentence of 15 years.
Francois Arizzi, the mayor of Bormes-Les-Mimosas, a site of one of the most dramatic blazes, is among officials to claim that 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.
The French prime minister warned that “malicious acts must be punished” by the authorities.
Meanwhile, a 41-year-old man has admitted to starting a wildfire by accident with a metal-cutting device.
That fire, in Peynier, some 19 miles northwest of Marseille, burned 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.
“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 have already hurt tourism in the Riviera town.
“It’s not going to be a good season but the most important thing is that there have been no injured people,” said Marc Defour, director of Le Camping du Domaine camp site.
“But the town of Bormes(-les-Mimosas) has been damaged so the town image has been hit,” Defour added. “Some cancelled their trips, which is understandable. Other left before the end.”
Senior officials warned Friday that the situation remain perilous in certain places.
“In Corsica, the fires are starting up in a sporadic way… In Artigues, the situation is not yet under control,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told reporters in Paris Friday.
Collomb said that 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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