Spanish volunteer firefighter jailed for sparking wildfire

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FILE PHOTO: A member of a civil protection unit watches smoke from a forest fire in the village of Guia

MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish court has jailed a volunteer firefighter for three and a half years and ordered him to pay 158,000 euros ($189,200) in damages for starting a blaze that burned through nearly 150 hectares of forest in the northern Cantabria region.

Cantabria's provincial court found Luis Trueba, former volunteer fire brigade chief in the village of Ramales de la Victoria, used gasoline to deliberately start the forest fire in February 2019 in what it said was an apparent, and failed, attempt to show off his skills in putting out the blaze.

Data from the GPS tracker in Trueba's government vehicle showed he drove directly to the spot where the blaze began, pausing for several minutes before continuing up the highway and alerting colleagues he could see flames.

"Using gasoline as an accelerant he set fire to the scrub in at least seven different points," the court found.

Explaining his absence from base, the firefighter said he had been delivering chairs to his cousin, an alibi the court dismissed as "unbelievable," especially as the cousin in question testified he was yet to receive any chairs.

During a routine patrol of the area before the fire broke out, Trueba had told a colleague: "It's very dry, one strike of a match and we'll have to bring the hoses out", while another colleague later saw him remove a petrol can from the car.

According to local newspaper El Diario Cantabria, another firefighter described Trueba as a pyromaniac who was like a "junky needing a fix" when it came to fire.

The court said his role in putting out the blaze ended up being "neither efficient nor relevant", with professional firefighters and two aircraft required to intervene.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen, editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)