A Canadian man who spread conspiracies that the government was starting forest fires pleaded guilty to starting a series of blazes that burned thousands of acres.
Brian Paré, 38, told investigators that he started the blazes to “find out whether the forest was really dry or not”, say prosecutors.
He pleaded guilty to 13 counts of arson and one count of arson with disregard for human life at the courthouse in Chibougamau, Quebec.
The court was told that Paré started 14 fires, two of which forced the evacuation of around 500 homes near the town of Chapais.
“On May 31 at 8.30 pm, the town of Chapais issued a mandatory evacuation order due to the raging fires, in particular the fire at Lake Cavan as well as the airport fire, two fires that are included in the charges and were caused by the accused,” said prosecutor Marie-Philippe Charron.
She told the court that the Lake Cavan fire was the largest set by Paré, charring more than 2,000 acres of forest.
It was the first of five fires that Paré set between 31 May and 1 June, days after the Quebec government had banned fires near forests because of dry conditions.
Investigator found that the fires “had no possible natural cause” and that there was evidence that they had been criminally set.
The prosecutor told the court that police first made contact with Paré on 2 June as a potential when he was spotted in the area of one of the fires.
He denied being responsible but “demonstrated a certain interest in fires” during his interview, making him a suspect for police.
Investigators then began to monitor Paré’s Facebook page on which he posted about Quebec’s fire season.
In one post he claimed that the fires had been started by the government to convince people of climate change.
The prosecutor added that a judge allowed police to place a tracking device on Paré’s vehicle on between 1 September and 5 September is showed he was in the locations where other fires were started.
Paré was arrested on 7 September and admitted to starting nine of the fires.
“At this point, the accused admitted he was the one who started the fires and, as his main motivation, claimed he was doing tests to find out whether the forest was really dry or not,” said Ms Charron.
Paré has been held in custody since his arrest and a pre-sentencing report on his mental state and the risk he poses to the public will be submitted by 22 April.
Quebec suffered more than 700 forest fires in 2023, burning more than 11 million acres of land.
Officials say that 99.9 per cent of those fires were caused by lightning strikes.