visualize the evolution of forest fires in France

Over half a thousand hectares went up in smoke on July 27 in Gironde and Loiret; 165 hectares burned in a forest in the heart of the city of Anglet, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, on July 31; 70 hectares of forest destroyed and 15 homes evacuated in Ardèche, on 1is August… France had, at the end of the week, its first “Intense heat peak” summer with temperatures locally reaching 41 ° C, and with it its first major fires of the season.

What echo the warning made in early July to Agence France-Presse (AFP) by the president of the Federation of French firefighters (FNSPF), Grégory Allione: the summer of 2020 could be that of “All dangers”.

Read also Heatwave? Hotter than 2019? What can be expected (or not) for summer 2020

Especially since the month of May had ended with an average temperature warmer than normal, thus signing an unprecedented series of twelve consecutive months in which the mercury was abnormally high. The thermal excess was then 1.8 ° C compared to the reference average observed between 1981 and 2010, reported Météo-France. Drought and heat strongly influence the susceptibility of vegetation to flames. And, for two years, “The entire territory is now regularly affected” by these phenomena, insisted Mr. Allione.

Read also: Sun, heat, drought … Weather records during this confined spring
  • Nine out of ten fires are human-made

The causes of forest fires in Gironde and Loiret remain unknown, but they would have started from roadsides, suggesting the hypothesis of an anthropogenic origin. The criminal trail is, however, « incontestable » for the ten very close fire starts that ravaged 20 hectares in Sainte-Cécile-d’Andorge, in the Gard, Thursday, July 30.

In Anglet, the forest fire was “Of human origin”, according to initial findings. An investigation was opened and the Bayonne prosecutor, Jérôme Bourrier, stressed that “Even in the absence of intention”, the destruction of forests can constitute an offense punishable by five to seven years in prison. In “A very busy forest” like that, ” There are rules to respect “, hammered the mayor of Anglet, Claude Olive.

Because nine out of ten fire starts are the result of human activity, recalled the Ministry of Ecological Transition, at the end of June. This can be:

  • An economic activity: construction sites, agricultural activities, expansion of electric cables, etc.
  • A daily activity: cigarette butts, barbecues or campfires, vehicle or garbage fire …
  • A malicious act

Some data allow us to assess the proportion represented by the last category. In 2019, the Prométhée database, supplied by firefighters and law enforcement agencies and covering fifteen departments in the south-east of France – Corsica, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, the former Languedoc region -Roussillon, Ardèche and Drôme – thus identified 1,725 ​​forest fires. The causes of 1,016 of them could be identified and, among them, nearly a third was a malicious act.

In relation to the number of fires of human origin, malicious acts even represent nearly 50%. Still, as underlined it in 2017 with France Info an expert from the Delegation for the Protection of Mediterranean Forests (DPFM): “The important thing to remember is that the accidental cause is common. “ Almost half of man-made fires are caused by carelessness or dangerous behavior, and are therefore preventable.

Some municipalities and regions have decided to take measures to limit the risks. Among them, Charente-Maritime, always classified as very severe risk of forest fires by the prefecture, decided tocancel or postpone some fireworks expected in the short term. « Barbecues are prohibited, you must avoid throwing away your cigarette ends, and work in hot spots, such as welding or the use of a grinding wheel », also recommends the departmental fire department of Charente-Maritime (SDIS 17).

  • Ever more destructive fires since 2014

According to the government’s database on forest fires in France (BDIFF), mainland France and Corsica, over the period 2006-2019, some 3,000 fires destroyed, on average, 10,000 hectares of forest each. year.

But, if we take a closer look, we can see that the number of fires remained stable over the periods 2006-2012 and 2013-2019, with some 2,650 fires per year on average, while the areas burned, they , have increased: between 2006 and 2012, 8,693 hectares went up in smoke on average each year, against 10,318 hectares per year since 2013. In recent years, fires have therefore been more destructive.

In 2014, almost 750 hectares burned in two days on the border between the Landes and the Gironde. In 2016, a violent fire in Vitrolles and Les Pennes-Mirabeau, north of Marseille, alone destroyed 2,600 hectares. At the end of July 2017, more than 7,000 hectares had gone up in smoke, in the Vaucluse, the Alpes-Maritimes, the Var and Haute-Corse in particular. These were the most devastating forest fires in France since the 2003 heat wave, where 73,000 hectares had been engulfed in flames.

Read also What means to fight against large fires?
  • The Mediterranean arc is the most severely affected by forest fires

Two thirds of the forest areas burned over the last fifteen years are located in the Mediterranean area.

But with global warming, “Fires can spread across the entire territory, and not only in the Mediterranean arc., said the spokesperson for the FNSPF, Eric Brocardi, to AFP. This can cause concerns in terms of the distribution of relief forces throughout the territory. “

” When you have The north of france, the Pas-de-Calais, the Loiret which are subject to fires, this means that indeed, there is something happening “, also argued Grégory Allione, July 28, on France Info.

In 2010, as part of the interministerial mission on the extension of areas sensitive to forest fires, Météo-France had produced a report on the impact of climate change on the forest weather index (IFM). Developed in Canada in the late 1970s, the IFM is used to estimate the meteorological danger of forest fires taking into account the probability of their outbreak and their potential for spread.

However, Météo-France recalls on its site, the average value of the IFM increased by 18% between the period 1961-1980 and the period 1989-2008.

By 2040, it should increase by 30% compared to the period 1961-2008. The exposed areas should extend to the north-west (Pays-de-la-Loire, Center-Val-de-Loire and Brittany). In those already affected, the risk of fires could reach the middle mountains.

More worryingly, some simulations show that this increase could reach up to 75% by 2060. At that time, “A year like 2003 would thus become the norm for the meteorological danger of forest fires”, details the French organization. It is also likely, he said, that the forest fire season will lengthen in the year, from three months now to six months in the near future.

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