A mayor in the south of France says he will take legal action against residents [and second-home owners] who did not clear undergrowth on their land for “endangering the lives of others” after his commune was devastated by a wildfire.
Saint-André in the Pyrénées-Orientales was the site of a blaze on Monday (August 14) that quickly spread to cover 530 hectares of land, requiring the evacuation of over 3,000 people, including many tourists from local campsites.
A massive overnight response by 650 firefighters helped to contain it. However, 17 firefighters were injured and several homes are reported to have been damaged. The Chenes Rouges campsite has been at least partially destroyed.
The hot weather coupled with significant wind strength meant the fire spread easily through undergrowth and forest land. Investigations are still ongoing into the cause of the fire which is not yet fully extinguished three days on.
Local mayor Samuel Moli has been quick to point the finger at residents who did not take the risk of fire seriously. In February 2023, Mr Moli sent letters to 300 people explicitly requesting that they clear undergrowth on their property. A further reminder was sent in April.
“Out of 300 letters, only around 150 replied and correctly cut their foliage and ferns,” Mr Moli told FranceInfo, adding that those who did not cut their undergrowth are “partly to blame for the scale of this fire”.
Fire prevention: the rules about land clearance
Under current legislation, a failure to clear undergrowth (known as débroussaillage in French) resulting in the spread of fire that damages other people’s property is punishable by up to a year of prison and a fine of up to €15,000.
Communes are also allowed to issue fines to constituents of €30 per square metre of uncleared land.
The obligation to clear land applies to properties in the following regions:
In towns within these regions, land must always be cleared for homes within 200m of a forest and where instructed to by the local authority.
In rural areas, if property is within 200m of a forest, all land must be cleared within 50m of the home and 10m of all access roads.
These stipulations were updated in July 2023 with Article L134-8 outlining the types of property concerned as well as the applicable sanctions for uncleared land.
It is the home-owners’ responsibility to ensure rules are kept to, whether informed by letter or not. Tenants may be responsible if it is outlined in their rental contract.
For more information on the obligation to clear land, contact your local authority.