650 hectares devastated, 750 firefighters mobilized… And the fire is still not fixed.
The forest fire that has been ravaging the Cévennes since Thursday.
Other extreme forest fires could follow this summer, while the very advanced state of drought of the vegetation makes fear a summer of all the dangers on the front of the forest fires.
On the front line: the south-east of France.
But not only.
The fire risk map tends more and more to extend to the North, until it covers the entire metropolis.
The term is dropped, by the relief, to qualify the fire which has already ravaged 650 hectares of forest in the Cévennes, in the north of Gard, since Thursday.
The battle continued this Friday with 750 firefighters mobilized from all over France.
Because, if the evolution of the fire is "more favorable, with only a few persistent sources of fire", indicated the prefecture of Gard, in the morning, "it was still not fixed", insisted the firefighters, at 5 p.m. , fearing that it will not be the case for several more days.
Not a mega fire but an extreme fire
From there to say mega-fire?
Julien Riffault, ecologist at Inrae*, where he works on the link between climate change and fires, tempers.
“In terms of burned area, the one currently affecting the north of Gard is to date of a much lower magnitude than the fire in Gonfaron (Var), last summer, where 7,000 hectares went up in smoke, recalls he.
And the fires qualified as mega-fires in Australia or the United States, spread over hundreds of thousands of hectares.
But the scientist points out that there is no official scientific definition of "mega-fire".
"Fires are sometimes designated as such, not necessarily of a large scale, but with extreme behavior, difficult to control", continues the climatologist.
And on this point, this fire in the Cévennes ticks the boxes.
"Its propagation speed was very high and it proved to be very difficult to control from the start, although fire detection and attack means could be deployed immediately", describes Eric Brocardi, spokesman for the National Federation of Firefighters.
He too does not speak of a mega-fire to qualify this fire in the Cévennes and even regrets the use of the term in the media.
“This is only the first big media fire of 2022, but there have already been 900 fire starts in the South Mediterranean since the start of the year, he specifies.
A high pace compared to other years.
And which could intensify further in the coming weeks?
Already in mid-May, Eric Brocardi said he expected a summer full of dangers in terms of forest fires.
Julien Riffault is of the same opinion: "The accumulation of precipitation has been extremely low since the beginning of the year in several regions of the South-East, so much so that the vegetation is in a state of drought which is closer to what we is used to seeing at the end of the summer,” he points out.
A high-risk summer on the forest fire front?
Enough to leave, on the ground, a large quantity of biomass which can easily ignite, when the weather conditions are met.
This is the second part of the "fire" cocktail.
Eric Brocardi evokes the rule of 30: wind greater than 30 km / h, a humidity rate of less than 30% and a temperature greater than 30. However, this is the situation experienced by several places in mainland France in recent weeks and expected also for the days to come.
Météo France anticipates, from this weekend, a new heat wave.
This beginning of summer is therefore in line with the trends observed in recent years on the increase in the intensity of fires in France.
“We still lack objective data to quantify this phenomenon scientifically,” begins Julien Riffault.
What is certain is that we have more and more feedback from firefighters saying they are faced with more complex fires to control.
And, indeed, there has been a series of virulent fires in recent years, such as Gonfaron in 2022 or the Rognac-Vitrolles fire (near Marseille) in 2016. They have in common to have taken place in conditions very intense heat waves and/or drought.
The same conditions that climatologists predict will be more frequent in the future, with climate change.
A map of fire danger that extends north
Above all, the south of France is no longer the only metropolitan region prone to forest fires.
“Gradually, the zone extends towards the North, observes Julien Riffault.
We could even have rises to areas hitherto little affected by the fires, such as the Massif-Central, the West, the Grand-Est.
For his part, Eric Brocardi cites the April 2021 forest fire which had destroyed more than 100 hectares in Indre.
“We have been trying to alert people to the fact that the whole metropolitan area is now exposed to this “fire” risk for three years, he insists.
However, over the past forty years, the area burned and the number of fires have decreased over the past forty years in France.
The average, certainly very variable from one year to another, was around 12,000 hectares burned each year against 45,000 in the 1970s, recalls the daily
The Inrae ecologist explains it by the strengthening of policies and means of prevention and fight against fires, “with two waves of measures taken after the devastating fires of 1989-1990 and then of 2003”.
"This made it possible to reduce the fires despite increasingly critical weather conditions," continues Julien Riffault.
But we realize, not only in France but also in Portugal, Spain or Greece, that these measures reach their limits when the conditions become very intense.
That is to say very hot, very windy, very dry.
Instilling the culture of civil protection in France
Eric Brocardi invites, in a certain way, to reinvigorate prevention and control policies and the means allocated.
“We are already in the process of redeploying civil security air resources throughout the national territory to adapt to this new fire risk map, he begins.
An air base was opened in Angers for example.
At the same time, firefighters must also be trained to deal with these forest fires throughout the territory.
This is only the first part of the equation, insists the spokesperson for the National Federation of Firefighters.
The second ?
Train the population in fire risk, when 92% of fires are of human origin.
"We don't have this culture of civil protection at all in France," he regrets.
We still see too much clearing in the summer, where the risk of fire is greatest, barbecues near wood, cigarette butts and waste thrown into the environment.
“But this awareness will not be enough for Julien Riffault: “To avoid intense forest fires in France as much as possible, the best thing is still to fight against climate change”.
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* at the Ecology and Biodiversity of Forest, Grassland and Aquatic Environments Department (Ecodiv)