Forest fire risk in parts of southern France raised to ‘very severe’

The combination of strong winds and drought conditions has heightened the likelihood of wildfires

With water scarce, firefighters have been looking in the sea for supplies
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The alarm has been raised over the increased likelihood of wildfires in parts of southern France.

The prefect of Pyrénées-Orientales department says the lack of rain and wind gusts of up to 90km/h predicted on Tuesday mean the risk was now ‘very severe’.

Authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of France’s first major forest fire of the year, which burned up to 1,000 hectares of land in Pyrénées-Orientales.

It comes after some areas of the department were last week placed under a drought ‘crisis’ level due to lack of water.

Department faces a host of issues

Pyrénées-Orientales was in the news last week for bringing drought restrictions up to the highest ‘crisis’ level in some areas.

The department also banned the sale of above-ground pools to prevent residents from being “tempted” to break drought rules and fill them up.

Officials are attempting to juggle both water conservation for residents and the need to appeal to tourists, with much of the local economy reliant on summer visitors to the area.

Back in April, the department’s president Hermeline Malherbe said it was on the brink of “ecologic and economic catastrophe” after not experiencing significant rainfall in more than a year.

She called for a solidarity fund from the government for the region to help the agriculture and tourism sectors survive the summer, as thousands of residents could not access drinking water from their taps due to water shortages.

Read more: France will soon roll out a ‘wildfire risk map’. How will it work?

A host of initiatives to prevent fires

The forest fire in April that ravaged land near the Spanish border had already placed the department on an unofficial heightened alert over future blazes.

With water scarce, firefighters say they are having to turn to the sea and rivers for supplies.

To help, France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin has ordered equipment to be sent to the department, including a helicopter that ‘bombs’ affected areas with water,

On top of this, a daily forest-fire ‘risk’ map will be introduced nationally next month.

It is hoped the new government-backed feature will help keep citizens safe and better inform firefighters of local threats, although some have criticised making the information publicly available due to the risk of arsonist activity.

How to reduce forest fire risk

It is possible to help reduce the risk of fires by keeping your garden tidy, by cutting grass and overgrown bushes and by clearing overgrowth.

Tree branches must be pruned, and waste must be disposed of in a safe manner - with the burning of rubbish banned.

In most rural (and some urban) areas, it is mandatory for property owners to maintain their gardens and land to prevent fires, particularly if living close to a wooded area.

These are known as the obligations légales de débroussaillement and you can find out more about them in our recent article on the matter.

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