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Wildfire prevention: The legal obligations for French property owners

The Local France
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Wildfire prevention: The legal obligations for French property owners
Trees and vehicles burnt by a wildfire in Saumos, Bordeaux's western outskirts, in September 2022. (Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP)

The French government is set to increase enforcement of the wildfire-prevention works that are the legal obligation of property owners.


As the risk of wildfires rises, the French government has created a bill of fire prevention measures, which includes a ban on smoking in forests.

Included in the ban is tougher enforcement of the rules for property owners - the bill does not change the legal obligations for property-owners, but increases enforcement, which has previously been poor.

Last year, thousands of wildfires - caused by extended periods of drought and heat - destroyed more than 72,000 hectares of land in France. 

The scars left by the fires that ravaged 30,000 hectares of forest in a single area of the Gironde are still clearly visible from the top of the famous Dune du Pilat.

Worryingly, the 19,000 fires recorded in 2022 were not just in the south of the country but burned areas including central France, Brittany and the eastern border areas.

READ ALSO How to check the forest fire risk in your part of France

One of the simplest fire-prevention measures is the responsibility of homeowners  to keep areas around their properties clear of vegetation that could be a wildfire hazard in dry conditions - obligations légales de débroussaillement

Householders living close to wooded areas have a legal requirement to clear and maintain residential areas - this is known as débroussaillage. This may also include a requirement to clear areas that are not part of your property.

The map below indicates the regions where débroussaillage is a requirement rather than a recommendation.


Residents in areas most vulnerable to wildfires are required to clear and maintain garden vegetation in summer periods, when the risk of fires is at its highest. 


This includes pruning trees - clearing them completely, if necessary - and cutting grass within a certain area of houses and other buildings to prevent fires from 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.

READ ALSO How to protect your French property from wildfires

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.


The overarching obligations légales de débroussaillement state:

  • All borders of built-up areas within 200 metres of forests, moors, or scrubland must be be kept clear of brush;
  • The clearing work must be over a distance of 50 metres, regardless of the property’s borders - be aware that this distance can be doubled up to 100 metres by the local, departmental or regional authorities;
  • Private access roads must also be cleared to a distance of at least 10 metres.

Failing to maintain the clearance work can result in a fine of up to €1,500. As requirements vary from commune to commune, the best advice is to keep up to date with your local mairie’s instructions.

Second-homeowners must also ensure that brush clearance and maintenance work is completed - so this may involve employing a gardener in order to fulfil your legal obligations if you are not at the property during the summer months.


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