38-year-old Brian Paré admitted to setting 14 fires in Quebec last year, after spreading conspiracy theories claiming that the government was behind the increase in wildfires.
At a courthouse in Chibougamau, Quebec on Monday, Paré admitted to 13 counts of arson and one count of arson with disregard for human life.
Prosecutors told the court that two of the fires started by Paré caused a mandatory evacuation order, forcing residents of around 500 homes to evacuate until it was deemed safe to return several days later.
The fires scorched more than 2,000 acres of forest and raised suspicions with authorities, who could not determine a clear natural cause for the blaze.
Prosecutor Marie-Philippe Charron said that police first spoke to Paré in July after he was spotted near the initial site of one of the fires.
While he denied setting the fire, police noted that he demonstrated a “certain interest in fires” which prompted them to investigate further.
Police then examined Paré’s Facebook page and found a vast number of posts about forest fires in Quebec.
Specifically, Paré claimed that recent wildfires in Quebec were deliberately lit by the government to trick people into believing in climate change.
Canadian fire services have dismissed these claims, stating that most fires were caused by lightning striking the dry forests.
After believing Paré to be suspicious, police obtained a warrant to install a tracking device on his car, which revealed his presence at the site of further fires in September.
He was arrested on September 7, at which point he confessed to starting nine 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 Charron.
Assistant professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, Jen Beverly, said that only about five per cent of fires are caused by arson each year, and deliberately lit fires accounted for less than one per cent of the total land area burned.
She and others expressed that weather conditions exacerbated by climate change contributed to the spread of wildfires.
“There is documented evidence that fire seasons are getting longer, fires are starting to happen earlier in the spring, and that we were getting bigger fires.”