Forest fires in France: Cameras to be used more to prevent blazes

The cameras work 365 days a year, 24/7, and can detect smoke on the horizon before a fire gets out of control

Forest fires in France: Cameras to be used more to prevent blazes
The surveillance cameras compare the live image to a saved image of the horizon and can detect differences instantly
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The department of Gironde in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, southwest France, is set to become the latest in the country to use cameras as part of surveillance equipment to detect and prevent forest fires.

The surveillance cameras help firefighters to track smoke columns effectively, and extinguish fires before they spread.

A task force to install and implement the cameras was set up in 2022, and eight initial cameras are expected to be operational by this summer.

The system is scheduled to be operational in full, with 14 additional cameras, by April 2024. They will be connected mainly to the Ornano fire station, but another will also be linked as a backup, in case of technical failure.

Controller general Marc Vermeulen of the SDIS (service départemental d'incendie et de secours, the fire and rescue service) of Gironde, told Le Figaro: “The challenge is to evaluate the risk to public safety to prioritise the response to deploy, refine the exact identification of fire start locations, and provide images to law enforcement services for their inquiries.”

Mr Vermeulen has been calling for “an increase in surveillance” since 2021. Since the terrible forest fires of 1949, Gironde has had a firefighter observance system in place, with 26 lookout towers around the department’s main ‘massif’ area.

However, this system is only effective and used during the height of the forest fire season, and firefighter ‘rounds’ only take place from 10:00 to 20:00, and stop at nightfall.

In contrast, the new system will offer “surveillance 365 days a year, 24 hours a day”, said Mr Vermeulen.

Nearby use

Gironde is not the only department to install the method; Charente-Maritime has been using a camera system since 2013.

Read more: Wildfires: New Charente blaze draws suspicion as Gironde fire settles

Jean-Baptiste Duprat, area manager of the Office national des forêts (ONF), said: “These cameras have an image, managed by computer, with a very clear horizon. When a plume of smoke rises, they detect a difference, and raise the alarm.”

It comes after huge forest fires devastated vegetation in the department last summer, with tens of thousands of people requiring evacuation and tens of thousands of hectares destroyed.

The €1.6million funding for the project comes as part of the €7.6million government funds allocated to the wider region to help combat the forest fire risk.

Mr Vermuelen said that the drought situation that affected much of France in recent months was “worrying”. He said: “The drought that we’re currently up against is more significant than that of the same time frame in 2022.”

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