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Climate crisis For Members

How to protect your French property from wildfires

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
How to protect your French property from wildfires
How can you protect your French property from wildfires. Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / POOL / AFP

Wildfires are projected to increase in number in Europe in the coming years, so what steps should you take if you live in France or own property there?

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The summer of 2022 was the worst on record for wildfires in Europe, and France alone saw 19,000 fires. More worrying still, these were not just in the south of the country but were recorded in areas including central France, Brittany and the eastern border areas.

So what can householders do to protect their property from fires? And what do you need to know about emergency warnings and evacuation procedure?

Keeping your home safe

The good news is that no one is entirely helpless to prevent fires reaching their property in the first place. There are things you can do - some of them you are legally obliged to do - to keep your home safe.

Householders living close to wooded areas have a legal requirement to clear and maintain residential areas - this is known as débroussaillage.

Residents in areas most vulnerable to wildfires are required to clear and maintain garden vegetation in summer periods, when the risk of fires is heightened. It refers to pruning trees and cutting grass within a certain area of houses and other buildings to prevent fires reaching them.

The rules are listed in France’s Code Forestier and are applied where required - notably in départements in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Corsica, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

In general, people who live in départements where rules are in place must cut back their gardens if their property comes within 200 metres of woodland.

Failing to do this can result in a fine of up to €1,500.

Second-home owners may need to hire a gardener or caretaker to ensure that this is done if they are not at the property during the summer months.

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France's pompiers (firefighters) also list the following advice to protect property in fire risk areas.

  • Do not install plastic gutters
  • Do not store wood, fuel and butane in the immediate vicinity of the house
  • If you have a swimming pool, make it available to the fire brigade in case of fire
  • Avoid planting particularly flammable plants such as Kermes oaks, cypresses, mimosas, eucalyptus, thorny plants and conifers - and do not plant too close to your house
  • Cut tree branches so that they are more than 3 metres from the facade of your property
  • Do not burn anything between April and September

Public awareness

The Fédération nationale des sapeurs-pompiers has already called for better public information about appropriate action during extreme weather events such as wildfires.

“No one knows how to act in a forest when it’s 40C,” the Fédération’s vice president Eric Flores said.

From mid-May or early June 2023 - exact date TBC - Météo France will launch a 'forest fire forecast', updated every few days assigning a risk level for wildfires to each département in France, along with the appropriate advice for householders in those areas. 

During the summer months, you also need to check the rules at your local préfecture, as many enforce restrictions such as camping bans or even bans on entering forest areas if the risk of fire is very high. It is estimated that 90 percent of the 19,000 wildfires recorded in France in 2022 were started by humans, mostly accidentally.

Alerts

As well as following official announcements from local authorities, France now operates a text alert system that will send a message to all active mobile phones in certain areas.

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It has replaced the app-based Population Alert and Information System that proved ineffective.

The "FR-Alert" system has been operational in France since 2022 and should make it possible to warn the inhabitants of a sector, a département, or a region of a critical situation such as a natural disaster, major fire, chemical or industrial accident, or attack.

It uses the mobile telephone network and uses "cellular broadcasting", which means the message will be transmitted to all mobiles - even phones belonging to tourists - in a certain area, in a few seconds, as a priority alert message on a dedicated channel.

If you need to evacuate

Obviously, follow the instructions of emergency services and if there are fires in the area keep tuned in to local news sources or follow official social media accounts from local authorities and emergency services.

But, what should you take with you if you have to evacuate? France’s Sécurité Civile service has published details of an emergency evacuation kit.

The must-haves it lists include:

  • Keys for your house and car;
  • Photocopies of ID papers, insurance etc;
  • Prescribed medicines, as necessary;
  • Some cash;
  • A portable radio, rechargeable or with spare batteries;
  • Telephone charger;
  • A 1.5 litre bottle of water;
  • Food that does not need cooking;
  • A multipurpose penknife;
  • A first-aid kit;
  • Toiletries;
  • Warm and weatherproof clothing;
  • Emergency blanket;
  • A whistle;
  • A torch - rechargeable, or with spare batteries;
  • Reflective vests for everyone in your group;
  • Board games and books/magazines.

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