how French firefighters are arming themselves to fight more brutal fires in forests and vegetation

The effects of global warming are already being felt in mainland France on the fire front. In June of this month, when summer has not yet begun, fires are spreading. On June 12, a fire in the eastern Pyrenees engulfed fifty hectares of maquis, and several outbreaks broke out near Nima (Gar). The next day, the tree-lined campsite in Grau du Rua was destroyed by flames.

Between early and severe drought episodes and strong summer heat waves, areas that are usually affected by vegetation fires are Aquitaine and the Mediterranean basins. face a more intense and widespread hell. Regions further north that had not been saved from the flames have now been hit. The Ministry of Ecological Transition lists the new open areas: Pays de la Loire, Center-Val de Loire, Brettany and even Hauts-de-France.

But in fact the whole of France suffered. “Right now, in the context of climate change and nationally, the problem of forest fires needs to be addressed”, warns the National Observatory of the Effects of Global Warming (Onerc) in a report published in March. Faced with this new threat, are the French emergency services ready and sufficiently armed?

Adaptation to “quick changes” Civil security has been taking into account global warming for several years, says franceinfo commander Alexander Juassar, a spokesman for the Directorate General of Civil Security and Crisis Management (DGSCGC). Display targeting horizon 2030-2050 “ led to the following conclusion: “Our air and ground forces must be distributed throughout the country.”

Thus, in 2020, far from the Cote d’Azur or the Atlantic, three new Pelicandroms were opened, facilities that can house sea bombers: Angers (Maine and Loire), Chateauroux (Indre) and Meol (Somme) . In the same movement, another movement was opened in Epinal (Vosges), and Saint-Etienne (Loire) has just received certification.

In the northernmost region of France, “The statement dates back to 2019”, tells franceinfo Colonel Olivier Desquienne, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Northern Defense and Security Zone (which unites the five departments of Au-de-France). That year, 3,000 hectares of crops caught fire in the area in extreme summer heat. In September, it was decided to create a “zonal response”. One of them is Albert Picardy Airport in Meo. It occupies a “central position”, explains Colonel Olivier Deskiens. Thus, a device that fills the water in this area “Can interact with any construction site in the northern zone in a maximum of 30 minutes”he points out.

Special training of firefighters in forest fires is also intensifying. These specialists are trained to fight flames, but there are important differences between a house fire and a forest fire. After all, what has so far been more specialized for firefighters in the south of France should become the norm for the whole country. “Sdis [Services départementaux d’incendie et de secours] realize the shortcoming in the pace of staff training “reports franceinfo Francois Foco from the Department of Territories in Indre-et-Loire. “Sdis targets 50% or even 100% of trained staff”adds this forest fire specialist, illustrating: “Le Cher is holding five sessions this year.”

The purpose of these formations is twofold, explains Alexander Juassar. “Actors on the stage will be trained, so they will have the habit and ability to perform the right gestures” and “their columns descending from the north to lend a hand to their counterparts in the south of France “ are fully operational. Indeed, when a large fire requires the mobilization of a large number of firefighters, as in 2021 near Gonfaron (Var), troops must be sent to load local teams and ensure regular firefighter interventions (in addition to fires) and support firefighters who are fighting. with forest or plant fires.


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Moreover, the sending of reinforcements to the South, which has already been observed in recent years, should increase. Julien Ruffo, Fire and Climate Change Specialist at the Mediterranean Forest Research Unit (URFM), emphasizes the difference between the Mediterranean and the rest of France in terms of climate forecasts “. The trend in the Mediterranean will certainly intensify: fires are likely to be more frequent and intense.

In L.In the rest of France, the trend is there, but less strong and with more uncertainty, especially regarding the scale and frequency of fires. “Modulation on a national and regional scale is complex because it is based on statistical relationships between weather conditions and observed fires.warns the expert. In areas where there are no fires yet, we are not yet able to establish these statistical ratios. “

If the uncertainty is high for areas further north, vigilance is real. As proof: the purchase of equipment. Thus, in 2021, the Sdis de l’Indre purchased four tanks to fight forest fires. The investment is 250,000 euros per unit “important”Francois Focon comments, adding that even if these cars come “Upgrade obsolete equipment fleet”, “Recent fires in the West have changed the situation a bit”. DSimilar dynamics in the Northern Defense Zone. In 2021, five SDIs in the sector have purchased nine tanks to fight forest fires, according to Colonel Olivier Deskiens. The firefighter also mentions “phave a lot of small equipment “as well as the adaptation of existing vehicles, for example, with the possibility of attaching a fire hose to the front of the car.

In Sarta, after the 2019 fires, it was decided to install cameras to monitor 117,000 hectares of forest in the department. The goal is to make it easier to detect fire outbreaks so that you can act as quickly as possible. The device is installed on 16 high points (9 supports and 7 water towers). The cost of the operation: 1.2 million euros excluding taxes and 100,000 euros annually operating costs, says franceinfo Lt. Col. Mark Rallu.

The bill may seem difficult, but the officer notes that in 2015, a fire on the 115-hectare facility cost 500,000 euros, including burnt-out equipment, hourly firefighting allowances, food, beverages and clothing. “With cameras, we could intervene faster”, says Mark Rall. The lieutenant colonel cites the example of the fire discovered on May 10 in Saint-Mars-d’Outille, where the device favored firefighters. “We saw a plume of smoke, we thought, ‘It’s burning here.’ So instead of launching four vehicles, as we would normally do that day, we did eight from the beginning.“Lt. Col. Mark Rallu says. Eventually, two acres were destroyed. A balance that could have been greater without the new device,” he said.

Firefighters also rely on meteorologists to monitor forests and vegetation in general (including cultivated fields). From 2020, a daily fire risk assessment will be carried out in the Northern Defense Zone from 15 June to 15 September, using indicators established by Météo France, taking into account, inter alia, dead vegetation and living vegetation. “We assess the fire hazard on a daily basis, with departments and according to a schedule “explains Colonel Olivier Desquines. “At the end of July, the harvest is in full swing, and the temperature can be extreme”he illustrates, recalling that special training is required to read and interpret weather forecasters’ bulletins.

Although it is still unclear, the threat of summer fires worries firefighters in Hauts-de-France as well as in Sarthe. Realization is recent, but evolution is very fast “congratulates Colonel Olivier Desquienne. “Today, global warming is not yet significant, but it will soon become so.”provides for Lt. Col. Mark Rall.

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