France’s departmental authorities are calling on the government to revise the hourly remuneration offered to volunteer firefighters by 3.5%, as wildfires grow more common as a result of climate change.
So far this year, a record 62,000 hectares of land have been burnt by wildfires, most notably in Gironde, where nearly 30,000 hectares were destroyed in all.
Volunteer firefighters do not receive a set salary, but are generally given €8-€12 in tax-free remuneration per hour that they work, depending on their role within the brigade.
François Sauvadet of the Assemblée des départements de France stated: “In the average global warming scenario predicted by the GIEC (Groupe d’experts intergouvernemental sur l’évolution du climat), the number of fires should rise in France between now and 2050, and we fear the arrival of extreme fires, which are particularly difficult to control.”
He added that it is therefore necessary to increase the number of volunteer firefighters available for deployment from 198,000 to around 250,000 to respond to this threat.
“We need reinforcements, we need volunteers. And it is the state’s responsibility to support us in making the status of volunteer firefighter more attractive,” he said.
France’s departmental authorities have said that the hourly rate increase would need to be covered in its entirety by the government, as individual councils would struggle to afford it.
“Funding for the SDIS (Service départemental d’incendie et de secours) would with this recalculation go from €620-€642million,” they stated.
They are also calling for “new loyalty incentives and recognition” for volunteer firefighters.
Another volunteer firefighter arrested for starting wildfire
A young volunteer firefighter living in Soulac-sur-Mer (Gironde) has been arrested on suspicion of starting several wildfires in the Nord Médoc area over the summer.
Some 31 fires began in the area between July 27 and August 21. Some were accidental, but the majority were started deliberately.
Investigations led police to a 19-year-old man, who has now admitted having started the majority of the fires.
He and members of his family all contributed to the local volunteer firefighter brigade.
Xavier Pintat, the mayor of Soulac-sur-Mer, said that he was relieved that someone had been arrested for the fires, but added: “I do not want this to taint the work of firefighters who – I’ve seen myself – have done amazing work.
“There were two fires in particular which would have turned very nasty, in the middle of a heatwave with strong winds, [but] in our time of need we were lucky enough to have the Canadair and then the Dash planes and helicopters, and the support of volunteers.”
The 19-year-old could face a prison sentence of up to 15 years for having deliberately started the fires.
These fires were not related to the blazes in Landiras and La Teste-de-Buch (Gironde), which were responsible for the majority of the damage caused to the department’s forests this summer.