They are wary of the slightest spark.

In the softwood forests of the Wild Coast of Charente-Maritime, classified as a severe fire risk for forest fires, two ONF agents monitor tourists with dangerous behavior.

Philippe Lequeux, 64, criss-crosses the national forest of La Coubre, in the town of La Tremblade, in his Suzuki 4x4.

"There is material to fire", worries this agent of the National Office of Forests who walks every day this forest of maritime pines and holm oaks of 5,000 hectares.

"You throw a cigarette butt in there, and it goes at high speed," says his colleague Dominique André, pointing to a pile of dried palm leaves, found under an oak tree about ten meters from the road.

Once removed, we see that they concealed pieces of old asbestos sheets.

Quads and motocross,

real scourges


That day, the duo of agents, dressed in a green polo-pants set with the NFB logo, armed with a revolver "to mark authority", found only a few traces of campfires and of tent pegs.

No motocross or quads, the “real scourges” for forest managers.

It is also necessary to control the car parks which border the area, prohibited to vehicles after midnight and long considered as "summer residences" by motorhome owners, until the installation of gantries 2.10 m high, says Mr. Lequeux.

The duo mainly track gas stoves and cigarettes, in this area where all restaurants now display a sign "no smoking, high risk of fire" by decision of the prefect.

“Regarding barbecues, with a few exceptions in the evening in parking lots, people have become aware of the danger.

But the cigarette, they think they can manage, ”laments Philippe Lequeux.

Always an excuse

“The fires, I know.

No problem.

I don't smoke, no gas", defends himself in a few words of French Thomas K., a 55-year-old German tourist, to the two agents who came to remind him, at breakfast time, of the ban on parking the night near the trees.

“I went around the campsites, but they were full, so we slept here.

Just one night”, explains in English, this surfer from Berlin, who travels in a van with his daughter.

The man and his vehicle had been spotted in the same place the previous morning, laughs Dominique André, but for lack of flagrante delicto, it is impossible to verbalize the campers once daybreak.

The two agents rely daily on pedagogy, the reminder of the law and evoke the recent fires which have hit the headlines.

The fine of 135 euros is reserved for the “most recalcitrant” smokers or the perpetrators of campfires.

In car parks, those who are found at fault almost always have an excuse: a Belgian tourist smokes at the door but has "a bottle of water for the cigarette butts", this couple who slept in a van "knows" behave in the forest because "we are from Landes", while this father of a family from Lyon who speeds along on an electric scooter, cigarette in his beak, on a tarmac track filled with dried pine needles, did not "think that there was in danger”.


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  • Quad