Fires in south deliberately lit: French minister

26th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France, July 25 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin warned here Sunday wildfires ravaging parts of the south of France had not all been started by accident and called for heavy punishment for fire starters.

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France, July 25 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin warned here Sunday wildfires ravaging parts of the south of France had not all been started by accident and called for heavy punishment for fire starters.

"The outbreaks are not all innocent," he told a press conference after flying over affected areas.

Forest fires are frequent in southern France during summer months. Three firemen died in a blaze last year.

"The situation has more or less stabilised but there are risks of new outbreaks," de Villepin said after inspecting wildfires that had burned more than 2,500 hectares (6,000 acres) of land and forced the evacuation of 2,000 local inhabitants.

Demanding "exemplary punishment" for people deliberately starting blazes, the minister said a company of special CRS police and a squad of gendarmes had been deployed to reinforce local police patrolling areas at risk.

A policy of prevention had borne fruit, with additional reserves of about 1,000 fire fighters drafted in since last Thursday to the particularly vulnerable Bouches-du-Rhone area before the first fires started, he said.

Planes dropping water and helicopters have been helping fire fighters try to contain the blazes, which were whipped up by strong winds.

Three firemen have been hurt, two by water being dropped and one from burns.

The evacuation took place overnight in the town of Vitrolles as flames threatened homes. Most residents were allowed home Sunday.

The first fire started late Saturday alongside a motorway and quickly spread.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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