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WILDFIRES

French fireman accused of being serial fire starter

French authorities on Friday held a fireman from the south of France accused of being behind a series of wildfires in the region which he says he started in a quest for adrenaline.

aerial view shows french firefighters monitoring wildfire situation in southwestern france
This aerial view taken on July 29, 2022 shows firefighters monitoring situation in a burnt forest area after wildfires near Landiras, southwestern France. - The Gironde prefecture said the two fires, which have destroyed 20,800 hectares of forest in Gironde over the past 10 days and led to the evacuation of more than 36,000 people, are fixed but that firefighters still need to remain on site to monitor for possible recurrences. (Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP)

The man, a volunteer fireman from the Herault region, was arrested on Wednesday, regional prosectors said.

The case of the man dubbed in media as the “pyromaniac fireman” has sparked a keen interest in France, which was shocked by a swathe of wildfires in last week’s heatwave that forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

Montpellier prosecutor Fabrice Belargent said in a statement that the man had admitted starting fires with a lighter on May 26, July 21 and, most recently, over the night of July 26-27.

“Asked about his motive, he declared that he had done this in order to provoke an intervention by the fire brigade to save him from an oppressive family environment and because of the excitement these interventions caused
him,” said Belargent.
 
“Adrenaline he called it — these are his own words,” said the prosecutor.
 
“He also said he had a need for social recognition.”
 
Adding to the irony, the full-time job of the man, who has not been identified by name but is in his 30s, was a forester, with preventing fires one of his primary responsibilities.
 
His lawyer Marie Bar told BFM TV that under questioning the man had “expressed very strong regret and above all a strong sentiment of shame”.
 
She confirmed he had been remanded in custody by an investigating judge ahead of trial.
 
“He apologised to the…. firemen who he works with as he calls them his big family. This is someone who is very devoted to his work,” she said.
 
“He finds it hard to explain. In a way he is relieved to have been arrested. He explains it as an addiction.”
 
If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and a 150,000 euro ($153,000) fine.
 
“It’s disgusting to have this type of individual within the organisation,” former fire brigade colonel Ludovic Pinganaud told BFM, adding that out of 200,000 volunteer fireman in France there were just “some sick people” addicted to fires.
 
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ENVIRONMENT

Ask the expert: Why is France’s drought so bad and what will happen next?

With France in the grip of an historic drought we asked a climate expert which areas are worst affected, what type of water restrictions we can expect to see in the coming weeks and how long the drought it likely to last for.

Ask the expert: Why is France's drought so bad and what will happen next?

Hydrologist and President of Research Organisation ‘Mayenne’ Emma Haziza answered The Local’s questions on the latest drought situation.

How does this drought compare to previous years?

When we look at previous years, France had four years of historic drought in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Last year (2021) saw higher rainfall because of a cold polar air front that settled over France and played a role in generating a lot of rainfall. But even when we look at last year, we can still see that outside of France there were already abnormally high temperatures. 

In 2017, 18, 19 and 20 there was still a very good amount of underground water that was refilled during the winter months. This shows that even with a healthy amount of rainfall in the winter, the summer still ended up being historically dry.

However this year, the water tables were not adequately refilled due to a low rainfall during the winter.

We have already seen three heatwaves and we are expecting a fourth. We have seen temperatures higher than average, with the month of May being the hottest registered in France. 

READ MORE: More than 100 French villages without tap water in ‘unprecedented’ drought

This means that even if the water tables were sufficiently refilled over the winter, we would still be in a bad position – but our current situation is even worse because of the low rainfall over the winter.

What areas are likely to be hardest hit by drought?

It is basically all over the country, but in particular the entire Loire basin, along the Mediterranean, and the Grand-Est region (in the east of France) will be impacted. The Atlantic coast will also be impacted as it has had mostly high pressure systems and almost no rain since January. 

Ultimately, local drought situations depend less on the area of France and more on the type of aquifer – whether the water table is deep and full.

More shallow water tables feed the rivers and many of these are drying up too. 

So does this mean the North and West can expect to be impacted too? Could these regions also need to restrict household water usage?

Yes, this means that the North (and Brittany) could be impacted too. 

The lack of water at the tap is making its way across the country – it depends on the water tables, not whether a village is in the North or the South. 

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is water likely to be rationed as France’s drought worsens?

We once thought that climate change was coming for the South first, but heatwaves are proving to accelerate drought and are impacting the north and the west as well. It is like a hairdryer all over France.

How long could it last?

As the forecast does not indicate rain any time soon, looking into the month of September the situation could become worse. This means that in many parts of the country we might have to wait until October to see the water tables begin to be refilled.

In 2017, the drought did not end until December and this year might be similar for the localities that do not get rain. This means we will need to continue supplying villages by bringing in trucks filled with water. 

With the drought, we can also expect that when rain does come that there could also be flash flooding. 

How can people best stay informed?

The government website Propluvia.fr allows you to see underground water levels and whether they have reached a critical state or not, as well as keeping up to date on water restrictions in your area. 

MAP: Where in France has water restrictions and what do they mean?

You can also keep up to date with the latest restrictions on The Local’s climate crisis section.

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