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No fire measures? You could be fined

Connexion edition: March 2007

FOREST fires regularly cause devastation in French woodland - an average of 30,000 hectares, or 300km2, is destroyed each year with the most common cause being people, whether by accident or design. Because of this, the French state expects people to abide by stringent regulations if they live near a wooded area.
For example, if you live in the Var department in south-east France, one of the areas most at risk of fires, you can be fined between €135 and €1,500 if you fail to stick to regulations requiring the removal of scrub around your home, as too much vegetation on the ground helps fires to spread.
Rules about the prevention of forest fires are laid out, in broad brushstrokes, at a national Government level in the Code Forestier. It is down to the préfecture - the state's local representative - in each department with significant forest coverage to create a set of detailed local rules - and down to home-owners to find out what they are and stick to them.
The areas of France most at risk of forest fires include the Var, Alpes-Maritimes and Ardèche in the south-east, Corsica, and the Gironde and Landes departments in the south-west, home to the Forêt des Landes, Europe's largest forest. The northern half of France is rarely affected, although Morbihan in Brittany is at significant risk and anywhere may be affected if the weather is unusually dry or windy.


The Code Forestier advises prevention measures within woodland and also for properties situated within 200m of woods and plantations.
It states that departmental regulations may enforce scrub clearance - débrousaillement - within 50m, or 100m, around buildings in these areas.
Local regulations are stricter or more lenient depending on such factors as the dryness of the climate, the strength of winds and the typical trees (olives have an oil which helps stop fire but pine resin burns easily).
In the Var these regulations were revamped last year.
Homeowners in the 200m zone - which is said to include 90% of the department - must stick to a 50m rule. There are also strict rules on when you may and may not burn vegetation on your land, and how close tree foliage can be to buildings (no nearer than 3m) and how far the foliage of one tree should be from the next (at least 3m, apart from copses, which should be no more than 15m across).
A spokesman for the Var Préfecture said: “A department in the alps might have a lot of forests, but they are not going to need such strict rules as us because the risk is less, so, for example, they may not need the same rules about how close trees can be to each other.
We have tried to make sure our regulations are precisely suited to the requirements of the Var."
People who live near to woods are advised to consult their own préfecture about any local rules.

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