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Firefighters forced to get water from sea in drought-hit south France

They would normally get water from fire hydrants, but the drought has seen them look to the sea, lakes and rivers instead

Firefighters have been forced to look to outside sources for water as the drought intensifies and restrictions remain in place Pic: CarmonaGuerrero / Shutterstock

Firefighters in the south of France are having to get water from the sea, lakes, and rivers, as drought conditions worsen, a senior figure of the national firefighters’ federation has said.

Eric Florès, vice-president of the Fédération nationale des sapeurs-pompiers de France, told FranceInfo: “Whether in the Pyrénées-Orientales or other departments, we are beginning to manage water as a strategic stock. 

“We are beginning to identify the areas where we will be able to store water, in cooperative cellars for example. 

“Normally firefighters use water from fire hydrants which come from water towers. But as [this source] must be preserved [...] we begin to fetch water from the sea, lakes, rivers…”

“The drought levels in the southern area are already higher than those seen on July 31 [in previous years],” he said.

This lack of water in Pyrénées-Orientales and elsewhere comes as the frequency of wildfires is set to intensify. 

He said the force is “anticipating that this season will be really problematic when it comes to water”, whether in the Pyrénées-Orientales or other departments.

Mr Florès added that even though the interior minister announced extra measures last month, “we never know if they will be enough”.

Read also: Maximum alert: Drought crisis declared in parts of southern France

Some campsites and aquatic parks have even invited the local firefighting service to get water from their swimming pools, and the force has been stockpiling water in local wine producers’ empty tanks.

Jean-Pierre Papy, the director general of the Arnaud de Villeneuve cellars, told BFMTV: “We have tanks that we’re not using, so if they can be of use, to really protect the environment, and be useful to fight against wildfires, then that’s really important.”

Mr Florès reminded people that 90% of forest fires are caused due to human activity and that people need to be educated and reminded about simple rules that can prevent fires. 

He added that one of the biggest things people can do to prevent fires is to clear away excess vegetation from their property and surrounding land. In some areas, this is already a legal requirement, but he reminded people to do it even if they are in areas that do not require it by law.

Read more: Why the French government wants you to clear up your garden 

Mr Florès also said that access to some large vegetation zones should be restricted for safety reasons.

“It’s important,” he said. “These are simple things that we can do to prepare for a summer that, sadly, looks as though it’s going to be difficult with the drought as it is.”

The Pyrénées-Orientales department is currently experiencing a historic level of drought, and it is at a ‘crisis’ level (the highest alert level). Its rain deficit level is currently at 60-65% compared to the past 12 months, government figures show.

As well as restrictions on water usage (no car washing, no filling of swimming pools, no garden watering, and no use of water except for health or hygiene reasons), the department has also introduced a temporary ban on the sale of above-ground swimming pools and inflatables.

Read more: France drought: sales of above ground pools banned in parts of south

The Pyrénées-Orientales prefect, Rodrigue Furcy, said that checks will be in place to ensure that the decrees and restrictions are respected. So far, the ban is set to be in place until June 13.

Public swimming pools will still be open, but all individual sales for at-home use are not allowed.

Mr Furcy said: “The priority for the moment is to share the collective effort to make effective water savings to get us through the summer because we’re facing challenging times.

“We’re at a kind of impasse between water resources and needs between now and the end of the summer. So, as a priority, we must firstly limit a certain number of uses in order to secure priority uses.”

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Is your French property in newly declared drought ‘disaster’ zones?

How France wants to stop another record year of wildfires

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