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Fire-stricken French forest clearing and regeneration plans begin

Forest experts are working to clear and replant the thousands of hectares of La Teste-de-Buch forest that were destroyed in the Gironde wildfires over the summer

A photo of a wildfire in a forest with destroyed vegetation

The fire left 80,000m3 of burned debris and vegetation in its path, all of which must be collected before regeneration plans can begin Pic: Asha_Joshi / Shutterstock

Environmental experts are working on plans to regenerate the stricken pine forest of la Teste-de-Buch, which was destroyed in one of the most significant wildfires to hit France over the summer.

Two months after the devastating fire in July, teams from the Office national des forêts (ONF) are drawing up ways to restore the damaged 1,036 hectares of the 2,030-hectare forest. 

Read our August article: Gironde fire update: 10,000 people evacuated, blaze still spreading  

The forest is still closed to the public between the dune du Pilat and Biscarrosse, and it is a race against time to start clearing up the disaster before winter and spring. 

The first step involves clearing the area of burned vegetation. Yan Rolland, manager at ONF Landes-Nord-Aquitaine, told FranceInfo: “We have to pick up 80,000m3 of wood.

“We have to pick it all up before next spring, as this is a period where insects may appear and could kill all the remaining trees that did survive the fire.”

Similarly, the burned trees should not go to waste. They can still be used by local factories and manufacturers and may be transformed into packaging and kitchen parts.

Mr Rolland said: “Our aim is to have it finished by December 31. So we’ll need about 30 forestry machines working at the same time in the forest. We’ll need trucks coming in continuously because 80,000m3 is what we would usually clear in 10 years.”

Another manager at the ONF Nord-Aquitaine, Francis Maugard, said: “The aim will be to replant the forest almost exactly as it was.

“We are going to try to regenerate the maritime pine as naturally as possible. If there are not enough seedlings, we will use seeds collected from other coastal forests.”

Read more: 48 people arrested this summer accused of starting wildfires in France

Renewed fire risk?

However, some experts have said that replanting maritime pine could be a poor choice, as it is particularly inflammable. This puts it at renewed risk of another fire. 

Yet, Mr Maugard said that it was important to replant maritime pine.

He said: “First of all, it’s a species that is characteristic of the local landscape. Secondly, it is a species that produces wood, which is used locally and generates employment. 

“However, the way it is managed has an effect on whether maritime pine is sensitive to fire. If we limit the continuity of low vegetation horizontally and vertically, and clear the undergrowth where necessary, maritime pine is no more dangerous in terms of fire than any other species.

"Maritime pine is destined to be resilient in this forest. We’re ensuring that a sufficient mix is introduced to protect the maritime pine and limit the fire risk."

Another tree species, cork oak, will also be planted in the forest, as it is more resistant to fire.

Mr Maugard also said that it was emotionally tough to see the forest in its current state. He said: “It hurts, we hate to see it like this.”

The forest regeneration project will take two or three years, the ONF said. 

The La Teste-de-Buch fire was one of several severe incidents to hit France over summer 2022, The flames were so intense that people in Ile-de-France reported being able to smell smoke from the Gironde blazes up to 500km away.

Read more: People in Ile-de-France can smell smoke of Gironde fires 500kms away  

Other Gironde fires declared extinguished

This comes as three other Gironde fires – in Landiras, Saumos and Arès – have now been officially declared extinguished. 

The Landiras blaze began in July, on the same day as the La Teste-de-Buch fire, and burnt around 12,500 hectares of land. It was eventually contained, but then in August heatwave temperatures led to a ‘Landiras-2’ blaze, which then burnt 6,700 hectares.

In Saumos, 3,400 hectares were burnt and 1,840 people were temporarily evacuated.

Landiras-2 meant that the public was not allowed to access the forests around the communes of Belin-Beliet, Saint-Magne and Hostens, but these restrictions have now been lifted. 

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