After the devastating fires of last summer and those that occurred in the spring, the government wishes to strengthen the means of fighting forest fires. A bill is currently being considered by Parliament.

Firefighters are preparing for a tense summer as several forest fires have already broken out between February and April 2023. The fire in Cerbères (Pyrénées-Orientales) in the spring and those in Gironde in the summer of 2022 were signals of the increase in “mega fires” in France. In response, Parliament must vote on a bill aimed at “strengthening prevention and the fight against the intensification and extension of the fire risk”. If the Senate has already adopted the text on April 5, the National Assembly is examining it this Wednesday, May 16.

From compulsory and facilitated measures for the preventive maintenance of forests to the strengthening of cooperation between agricultural and forestry circles, through appropriate reconstruction projects, the bill should allow French forests to be better protected against departures of fire. The legislative text reinforces measures already announced such as the “powerful rearmament” of firefighters, promised by Emmanuel Macron last October: more bombers and land vehicles available, 180 million euros allocated to services Departmental Fire and Rescue (SDIS) or increasing the fleet of French Canadairs to 16 planes by the end of the mandate. What concrete measures will be put in place? Will this reduce the loss of hectares of forest?

The risk of fire is no longer confined to the southern part of the country, as the fires observed in Finistère in the summer of 2022 have proven. The first step to better protect forests is therefore to put an end to “the heterogeneous preparation of territories for the risk of fire” according to the deputy LREM Girondine and rapporteur of the bill, Sophie Panonacle. The means of intervention must be able to be mobilized throughout the territory and no longer be concentrated solely on the southern half of France. Legislation must also put an end to this distinction of territories. The legislative proposal thus provides that the areas and departments at risk of fire are “defined by joint order of the ministers responsible for the forest, the environment and civil security”.

The forest weather forecast, a tool that will be available from June 1, 2023, pursues this objective of identifying risks. For each department and thanks to meteorological data, this weather will assess the risk of fire to invite caution, or even impose preventive measures.

“The French fire management strategy is based on two pillars: preventive work in order to limit the outbreak of fires, and an immediate and massive fight against incipient fires”, writes Sophie Panonacle in the foreword to the bill. Which provides several measures supposed to facilitate the preventive maintenance of forests or force forest owners to maintain their land.

Preventive measures must considerably reduce the risk of fire or, if necessary, the spread of flames and the appearance of mega fires, but it is naive to believe that they will be enough to prevent all fire outbreaks. The interventions of the fire brigade will then, as today, be the only solution. These fire soldiers should logically be allocated more resources. “The Minister of the Interior recently undertook to make more water bombers available this summer” in addition to releasing “180 million euros to the SDIS [which] will allow the purchase of 1,100 fire-fighting devices”, notes MP Sophie Panonacle in the bill.

In the longer term, Emmanuel Macron promised in October 2022 to expand the fleet of French Canadairs to 16 aircraft, compared to 12 today, by the end of his second term. In addition to receiving reinforcements, the vehicles already available should be replaced.

The elected officials did not advance on the means allocated to the firefighters, but they thought of a measure which could save “tens of millions of euros” each year according to the calculations of Eric Pauget, deputy of the Alps -Maritimes and member of the law commission. A sum that could be used to complete the fleet of firefighters. How ? Exemption from excise duty – former internal consumption tax on energy products (TICPE) – on petrol and diesel for all SDIS vehicles.

For the losses already recorded during the last major fires and for those that neither preventive measures nor the intervention of firefighters will be able to save, solutions must also be found. The hectares that have gone up in smoke can be reforested, but in a manner “adapted to the forest station and its foreseeable evolution due to climate change” according to article 35 of the bill, that is to say with suitable wood species and according to the methods which will be defined by decrees of the competent authorities. Reforestation should also “allow the maintenance of firebreak and support zones for the fight of a width defined by the authorities”.