Offbeat: firefighters, gendarmes and forestry investigate fires "as on a crime scene"

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Une équipe de Recherche des causes et circonstances des incendies de forêts (RCCI 30) enquêtant sur le site d'un incendie à Generac dans le Gard le 3 août 2022 © Pascal Guyot A research team for the causes and circumstances of forest fires (RCCI 30) investigating on the site of a fire in Generac In the Gard on August 3, 2022

after the passage of the flames, an "ant work": gendarmes, firefighters and forestry investigate the forest fires by applying a "criminalic method" on a large scale, in search of the smallest clue and precious testimonies.

A Généc (Gard), the agents of the departmental cell research of the causes and circumstances of the forest fires (RCCI), fluorescent vest on their backs, surrounded a calcined and yellow tape area on Wednesday.

Advancing in small steps, leaning on the burned ground, they put red flags to indicate the path of fire in its direction of spread, then yellow flags where it had passed "back".

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White pennants report traces of human passage, such as footprints.

"As on a crime scene", the agents "shy" then "ract" the place, in search of "any element that could shed light on the origin of the fire", explains Pascal Sperandio, himself a member of the RCCI of the Nîmes gendarmerie.

"Our role is to determine the exact place in which the fire took. Then to know if it is natural, accidental or criminal. It is an ant work", specifies the chief warrant officer Christophe Peigne, manager RCCI du Var, which works on all fire sites "of unknown or suspect origin".

In a summer at risk of fires due to heat and drought, these cells made up of gendarmes, firefighters and foresters from the National Forest Office (ONF) are "particularly busy", he adds.

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According to the ONF, nine out of ten fires are of human origin and three out of ten on average are intentional.

- Pigs and fuel -

Before the arrival of the team on site, the firefighters have the instructions to "freeze the premises", to turn off the fire "with a diffuse jet" so as not to destroy potential indices, explains Colonel Grégory Allione, president of the National Federation of French firefighters (FNSPF).

The RCCI agents, called on the spot as soon as the fire is reported, determine in the first place from which the fire is gone.

"We obtain between the flags a more or less large form: this is where our starting zone is located. It is reduced over the investigation. Last year, on the big fire of Gonfaron, we were Leaving 2,300 m2 and we finished on less than 20 m2, "says Christophe comb.

The agents notably seek butts that can open the track for an accidental fire and fuel traces, rather sharpening towards a criminal fire.

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In addition to finding the ground clues, the investigators also rely on the testimonies of residents or walkers.

"As soon as we talk about nature and the fight against fire, people come to speak, more than with a gendarme in classic outfit", affirms Christophe combs, who carries during his interventions a chasuble marked "RCCI".

After a fire earlier this week in Gajan (Gard) A mother was arrested after being seen near the fire. In Pont-Saint-Esprit, in the same department, two children aged 10 and 12 were arrested on neighborhood indications.

- Risk areas -

"once or twice a year", the VAR RCCI falls on an incendiary system, homemade or manufactured object which can cause a fire with delay. Each find is recorded in a database to which only the RCCI has access, so as not to "give bad ideas".

Several fire starts in the same place also tend to indicate the transition to the act of a pyromaniac.

"People who set fire to fire it several times. When you see several suspicious starts at the same time, in the same area, you can almost classify as a voluntary fire without going there," says Christophe comb.

Once the RCCI report has been returned to the public prosecutor, it is up to the gendarmerie or the police to investigate the identity of the pyromaniac.

The observations of the cell also allow firefighters to know the risk areas, and to adapt their surveillance device, or even to position in advance trucks ready for intervention.


fires. A beginning of lull in Gironde and in the Landes, rain and thunderstorms expected this evening .
© Stéphane Mahé/Reuters of the Romanian firefighters work to contain a fire in Hostens, while the forest fires continue to spread in the region de la Gironde, in the southwest of France, August 12, 2022. in Gironde and in the Landes, the lights have not progressed for 48 hours. The authorities decided to reopen the A63 motorway on this Saturday, August 13, classified red by Bison Futé. The firefighters hope that the rains expected this Saturday evening will help them.

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