A stupid gesture and the mistake of a lifetime. Judged since Monday by the Aix-en-Provence court for having unwittingly started a gigantic fire – the fifth largest forest fire in Bouches-du-Rhône since 1973 – Mostafa El Fathi was sentenced, Tuesday, November 16, to five years in prison including four years suspended (the year of firm imprisonment being to be served under the electronic bracelet regime).
On August 10, 2016, when he threw a cigarette butt that he believed was extinguished at the foot of a brush embankment, this mason from Berre-L’Etang (Bouches-du-Rhône) was immediately overwhelmed. “At the speed the fire started, even taking the garden hose, there was nothing to do, I ran away”, he confided, Monday, in court, where he had to face the immensity of the damage he caused.
The president of the court, Estelle Lassaussois, gave the excess: 2,655 hectares traversed by the flames including 630 hectares of forest, 117 installations and buildings affected by the fire, 26 houses completely destroyed and 93 others seriously damaged. Fanned by a violent wind and an exceptional dryness of the vegetation, the flames had only been stopped at the gates of Marseille after a fifteen kilometer race at a speed of 83 meters per minute. Of the 447 victims, more than 250 joined as a civil party. It took six hours for the court to call the victims and “take stock” of each of them.
“We don’t smoke in the pine forest”
“If I could go back …” : Mostafa El Fathi did not have many words to express his regret as the president confronted him with his initial lies. The day after the fire, the mason was heard as a simple witness to his presence on the Chemin des Tamaris construction site in Rognac, where the fire started. He was building a volunteer firefighter’s house there. To the gendarmes who then asked him: “Did you smoke on the construction site yesterday?” “, he answers no. A few months later, in November 2016, this time in police custody, he conceded that he was able to smoke but has no memory of it. It is only during the instruction that he will recognize the throw of a butt. But, he explained, in court, “I put out the cigarette, I must have put it out badly”. Asked about these evolving versions, “His problem in telling the truth”, the mason mentioned ” pressure ” : “I’m sorry, I’ve always worked, I’m not used to justice. But when I recognized, I was relieved. “
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