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Summer of arson: France charges volunteer firefighters with setting fires

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By Euronews
A firefighter sprays water to put out the remains of fires in a burnt forest, in Hostens, in southwestern France.
A firefighter sprays water to put out the remains of fires in a burnt forest, in Hostens, in southwestern France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo   -  

France has charged two its volunteer firefighters of setting some of the devastating blazes that rocked the southern part of the country over the summer.

One of the men firefighters is a 27-year-old who was arrested on 24 August.

Authorities have accused him of starting a fire that burned through 230 hectares of land near Lake Vouglans earlier in the month.

Some of his colleagues attended his trial, which started on Thursday. 

Colonel Cyril Fournier, who works with the fire and rescue services, said arson “sullies the uniform. It is out of the question to show any tolerance on this subject."

Authorites have also arrested a 35-year-old man for allegedly starting several other fires in the commune of Vif, and he is facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He denies the charges.

Before these two men, another volunteer firefighter admitted to starting fires over a period of several years. He told authorities that he was motivated by a need for ‘social recognition’ and the adrenaline rush.

Pierre Lamothe, a psychiatrist who specialises in criminology, said one of the reasons why firefighters turn to arson is because:  "there is often a need to feel indispensable. One creates the possibility of being a savior, one becomes a hero in a few hours".

Experts say there are several signs that can cause authorities to suspect that arson has taken place, in particular when multiple fires start simultaneously. 

Since the start of the summer, authorities have arrested 34 arsonists, according to France’s interior ministry.