By air, land, French police track forest fire-starters

SOULAC-SUR-MER, France (AFP) – On the ground, two officers from a special mobile brigade of France’s paramilitary gendarmerie speed a long a forest track.

Above them, a helicopter scans the landscape to warn them of any fires or anyone who might be looking to start one.

These are the members of a newly created police team who have just started patrolling in south-west France to seek out and arrest the fire-starters devastating the region’s forests.

In the last week, no less than 20 fires have broken out in the forest bordering the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the La Gironde department of south-west France, says the local gendarmerie.

While some have burnt for just a 100 sq m, the largest devoured 30 hectares of forest.

Scorched trees and charred trunks line the paths and cycle paths that criss-cross the woods.

To stop the devastation, local officials have sent in the new unit, the Forest Vigilance Platoon (PVF) made up of 15 reservist gendarmes, a senior police officer and two motorcyclists from the mobile brigade, backed up by the helicopter.

Spread across three zones, the PVF patrol the forest on motorbikes, all-terrain bicycles or in cars, where possible, on the hunt for fire-starters.

Set up just last week they started patrolling on Thursday (Aug 11).

The idea is that the PVF will free up firefighters who have been stretched thin battling blazes that since last Tuesday have burned up 7,400 hectares of pine forests at the southern end of Gironde.

“After the major fires in July, we observed a rise in the number of arson cases,” said Martin Guespereau, deputy prefect for defence and security in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which covers the Gironde.

“There are around twenty fires of unknown origin a day in Gironde.”

According to France’s National Forests Office (ONF) nine out of 10 fires were started by people – and three out of 10 were started deliberately.

Disclaimer: This report is automatically generated from worldwide news services. NTN is not responsible for its content and does not moderate it.

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