By BOB EDME and JOHN LEICESTER
LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France (AP) — French investigators probing the suspected deliberate lighting of what has become a raging wildfire in the country’s southwest have detained a man for questioning, as firefighters and water-bombing planes continued fighting Tuesday against the ferocious flames.
Two huge fires feeding on tinder-dry pine forests in the Gironde region have forced tens of thousands of people to flee homes and summer vacation spots since they broke out July 12.
One of the blazes, raging south of Bordeaux, is suspected to have been started deliberately. A motorist told investigators that he saw a vehicle speeding away from the spot where that fire started on July 12. The motorist pulled over and tried, unsuccessfully to extinguish the flames, the Bordeaux prosecutor’s office said. Criminal investigators subsequently found evidence pointing to possible arson, it said.
The man taken in for questioning was detained on Monday afternoon, the prosecutor’s office said in its statement. Investigations are continuing and witnesses are being heard, it said.
Water-bombing planes and more than 2,000 firefighters are working day and night to contain that fire and another fierce blaze southwest of Bordeaux that investigators are treating as accidental. The blazes have already burned through 190 square kilometers (more than 70 square miles) of forest and vegetation, Gironde authorities said.
The thick clouds of smoke and the risk of flames spreading to buildings have forced the evacuations of more than 37,000 people, including 16,000 just on Monday alone, Gironde authorities said. A smaller third fire broke out late Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux, further taxing regional firefighting resources.
Those evacuated Monday included 74 residents of a retirement home, Gironde authorities said. Animals were also evacuated from a zoo. Five camping sites went up in flames in the Atlantic coast beach zone southwest of Bordeaux, around the Arcachon maritime basin famous for its oysters and resorts.
But weather forecasts Tuesday offered some consolation, with heat-wave temperatures easing along the Atlantic seaboard and rains expected to roll in late in the day.
Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.
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