which departments are most at risk this summer?

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Fires in France: which departments are most at risk this summer?

After last summer marked by “megafires”, many departments are once again under pressure for the year 2023. Here are the places where the risk of fire is highest in France.

[Mis à jour le 21 juillet 2023 à 18h31] The summer of 2022 had been marked by fires scale in several departments. In Gironde, for example, 30,000 hectares went up in smoke last year. In total, 72,000 hectares of forests have been reduced to ashes at the national level. Destructive fires that led the government to unveil, last April, a program to strengthen the means of fighting forest fires. As part of this reinforcement program, particular emphasis was placed on the prevention and anticipation of possible fires.

A fire hazard map in each department is thus established daily according to various meteorological parameters (temperature, rain, wind strength, air humidity), but also according to the state of dryness of the vegetation. It allows you to have a view of the two days to come. titled “Forest Weather“, it presents a risk scale made up of four levels: low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), very high (red). The objective, according to the Ministry of the Interior, is to “deal with any fire within 10 minutes of its detection in times of risk”.

For Saturday July 22, a “high” danger (orange) is noted in the following departments:

  • Essone
  • Bouches-du-Rhone
  • Var

In these departments, “weather conditions significantly aggravate the risk of the start and spread of forest and vegetation fires compared to summer normals”, indicates Météo France, which adds that “the risk of fires can be locally very high”.

For Saturday July 22, a “moderate” danger (yellow) is noted in the following departments:

  • Ille-et-Vilaine
  • Loire Atlantique
  • Vendee
  • Mayenne
  • Maine et Loire
  • Two Sevres
  • Sarthe
  • Indre et Loire
  • Vienna
  • Eure
  • Eure-et-Loir
  • Loir et Cher
  • Indre
  • Dear
  • Loiret
  • Sum
  • oise
  • aisne
  • Marl
  • Val d’Oise
  • Yvelines
  • Seine et Marne
  • Hauts-de-Seine
  • Seine-Saint-Denis
  • Paris
  • Val de Marne
  • Eastern Pyrenees
  • Aude
  • Herault
  • Gard
  • Ardeche
  • Drome
  • Vaucluse
  • Alpes de Haute Provence
  • High mountains
  • Alpes-Maritimes
  • Upper Corsica
  • South Corsica

In these departments, “the weather conditions do not significantly increase the risk of the start and spread of forest and vegetation fires compared to summer normals”, indicates Météo France, but “the risk of fires can be locally high”.

What prevention and intervention system in the face of forest fires?

From compulsory and facilitated measures for the preventive maintenance of forests to the strengthening of cooperation between agricultural and forestry circles, via suitable reconstruction projects, French forests will be better protected against outbreaks of fire. The legislative text reinforces measures already announced such as the “powerful rearmament” of firefighters, promised by Emmanuel Macron last October: more bombers and land vehicles available, 180 million euros allocated to the departmental fire and rescue services (SDIS) or the increase in the fleet of French Canadairs to 16 planes by the end of the mandate. What concrete measures will be put in place? Will this reduce the loss of hectares of forest?

The departments at risk of fire better identified

The risk of fire is no longer confined to the southern part of the country, the fires observed in Finistère in the summer of 2022 have proven this. The first step to better protect forests is therefore to put an end to “the heterogeneous preparation of territories for the risk of fire” according to the Girondin LREM MP and rapporteur for the Law proposition, Sophie Panonacle. The text was adopted at first reading in the National Assembly and the Senate. This law was thus promulgated on July 10.

The means of intervention must be able to be mobilized throughout the territory and no longer be concentrated solely on the southern half of France. This law puts an end to this distinction of territories. It is now planned “a national strategy for the defense of forests and non-wooded areas against fires” which must be set by “July 2024 by the ministries responsible for the forest, the environment, urban planning and civil security, in consultation with various actors such as the National Forestry Office (ONF) or local elected officials.

Forest maintenance made easier and more controlled

“The French fire management strategy is based on two pillars: prevention work to limit fire outbreaks, and an immediate and massive fight against incipient fires”, writes Sophie Panonacle in the foreword to the bill. The adopted text presents several measures intended to facilitate the preventive maintenance of forests or to compel forest owners to maintain their land.

  • Risk prevention plans. Documents allow the administrative level to establish prevention policies for forest fires: forest fire risk prevention plans (PPRif). But these mandatory plans in areas considered to be at risk take a long time to draw up and are still insufficiently numerous. Parliament plans to facilitate the preparation of its documents. The same goes for the sustainable management documents (DGD) which make it possible to better maintain the forest and “effectively prevent the risk of fire” according to the deputy for Eure-et-Loir Luc Lamirault, co-rapporteur of the text. The prefects now have a legal basis to carry out tactical cutting of trees, similar to those carried out urgently in the summer of 2022.
  • The clearing. This is one of the main maintenance measures and “the most effective against the spread of fires”, insists Sophie Panonacle. The legal clearing obligations (OLD) already in place have been reinforced with the permission to clear brush without prior authorization being necessary (except for tall trees), a reminder of the owner’s responsibility to evacuate the cuts of slash and branches and the possibility of having to clear brush to a depth of 100 meters instead of 50. To further encourage compliance with the OLD, the financial penalty incurred by forest owners has been reduced. revised upwards “from 30 to 50 euros maximum per square meter not cleared”, as well as the control measures by the communities.
  • The measures of the agricultural world. Forests and agricultural areas are often adjacent and “agricultural abandonment [qui] limits maintenance of territories, cuts in vegetation and forest partitioning, promotes the spread of fires. Conversely, dynamic and well-maintained agricultural land is a major risk prevention asset”, emphasizes Luc Lamirault. Farmers who have often mobilized alongside firefighters during the outbreak of “mega fires” can be registered on a list of actors who can be mobilized in the event of a fire. Their water tanks can thus be requisitioned for the water supply of the firefighters. carrying out agricultural work and in particular harvesting at night.”
  • citizen vigilance. Another kind of preventive action should be strengthened: that aimed at citizens. “Nine out of ten fire starts are of human origin and it is estimated that half of them are due to recklessness or dangerous behavior”, recalls Anthony Brosse, deputy of Loiret and member of the commission for sustainable development and land use planning. The “national day of resilience”, initiated in 2022, is maintained to raise awareness among the French about the risks of fire. A ban on smoking “in the woods and forests […] and up to a distance of 200 meters from these woods and forests during periods of risk” is now in force. Anyone found guilty of this act faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros for the most serious cases of fire.

Firefighters better equipped to fight fires

Preventive measures must considerably reduce the risk of fire or, if necessary, the spread of flames and the appearance of mega fires, but it is naive to believe that they will be enough to prevent all fire outbreaks. The interventions of the fire brigade will then, as today, be the only solution. These fire soldiers should logically be allocated more resources. “The Minister of the Interior recently undertook to make more water bombers available this summer” in addition to releasing “180 million euros to the SDIS [qui] will allow the purchase of 1,100 fire-fighting devices”, notes MP Sophie Panonacle in the bill.

In the longer term, Emmanuel Macron promised in October 2022 to expand the fleet of French Canadairs to 16 planes, against 12 today, by the end of his second term. In addition to receiving reinforcements, the vehicles already available should be replaced.

The elected officials did not advance on the means allocated to the firefighters, but they thought of a measure which could save “tens of millions of euros” each year according to the calculations of Eric Pauget, deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes and member of the law commission. A sum that could be used to complete the fleet of firefighters. How ? Exemption from excise duty – former internal consumption tax on energy products (TICPE) – on petrol and diesel for all SDIS vehicles. In the same way, the vehicles of these services are “exempt from ecological penalty and weight penalty. For private employers of volunteer firefighters who set up arrangements for them, a reduction in employer contributions is approved from 2024 to 2026. Arrangements also concern volunteer firefighters who are students.

Forests rebuilt according to global warming

For the losses already recorded during the last major fires and for those that neither preventive measures nor the intervention of firefighters will be able to save, solutions must also be found. The hectares that have gone up in smoke can be reforested, but in a manner “adapted to the forest station and its foreseeable evolution due to climate change” according to article 35 of the law, that is to say with adequate species of wood and according to the methods which will be defined by decrees of the competent authorities. Reforestation should also “allow the maintenance of firebreak and support zones for the fight of a width defined by the authorities”. One of the objectives of the national forest replanting project is “the planting of a billion trees within 10 years” according to the Ministry of Ecology.


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