AL / Localtis with AFP
After twelve days and thirteen nights of fighting, the two “outstanding” fires which ravaged nearly 21,000 hectares of forest in Gironde and led to the evacuation of some 36,000 people are now “fixed”, but the work to extinguish them continues. In Brittany, too, the fire was “fixed” on July 24 in the south of the Arrée mountains where 130 firefighters were still hard at work. In both cases, nature has paid a heavy price with nearly 23,000 hectares of vegetation gone up in smoke and many natural habitats devastated, weakening many species.
In Landiras, in the south of the Gironde where 13,800 hectares of pines have burned since July 12, the fire is “now fixed”, announced this Monday July 25 the prefect of Gironde and New Aquitaine, Fabienne Buccio. This report had been drawn up on Saturday for the other fire which had started the same day, in La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon basin, which ravaged 7,000 hectares of forest.
The results of this “relentless fight” against the flames are “positive”, noted the representative of the State: no victims to deplore and rather limited material damage, five houses, a restaurant and a discotheque destroyed, the five campsites of the Pilat dune, from where 6,000 holidaymakers had been evacuated, out of nearly 2,800 buildings “directly exposed”. Twenty-five firefighters were injured, “fortunately slightly” according to Fabienne Buccio.
In the Landiras sector, some 40 km south of Bordeaux, a few thousand evacuated residents who had not yet returned to their homes received the green light from the prefecture on Monday. “Be careful, these fires are not extinguished. Fixed, this means that there are no longer any active outbreaks,” assured the prefect, pointing to “two outsized fires due to extreme weather conditions (scorching temperatures, editor’s note) and the means mobilized to contain them”.
Many areas remain to be monitored in Gironde
According to the boss of the firefighters of Gironde (Sdis 33), Marc Vermeulen, “the next step is to master the fires, which should reasonably be the case this week. For the extinction itself, it may take several weeks and will depend on the weather conditions. It’s a laborious job that begins”. The peat soil in the Landiras sector requires particular vigilance because there is a risk of fire smoldering under the ground “which can re-emerge quite significantly”, he specified, also warning of the danger of falling ” weakened pines”. The areas to watch for firefighters, he said, are equivalent to “28,000 rugby pitches” in Landiras and “14,000” in La Teste-de-Buch. The burned surfaces represent twice the area of intramural Paris. Up to 3,000 firefighters from Gironde and 1,200 others from 60 departments have been mobilized, but human resources will now drop to 450 firefighters. Two Canadair and two forest fire attack helicopters remain on site.
In the fight against these fires, “we had to show imagination (…) by carrying out titanic and unprecedented work on firewalls and fallback zones”, underlined Fabienne Buccio. More than 130 km of work has been completed and is ongoing. The prefect and the boss of the firefighters also explained that the Gironde had had to deal with “non-standard” fires, not with “megafires”, “which we decide cannot be controlled and that we leave to act alone, like in Australia or the United States”. “We never stopped fighting and we are about to have won,” said Fabienne Buccio. Marc Vermeulen also thanked the communities, associations and citizens of Gironde who mobilized in large numbers to support the firefighters at the logistical level, with many marks of affection and attention that marked the firefighters.
Faced with the scale of the crisis and the beginning of a controversy over air means of combat, the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron traveled to Gironde last week, stressing that France should acquire “more” planes. . The PS president of the Gironde department, Jean-Luc Gleyze, for his part hammered Monday that the Landes de Gascogne massif, “the largest softwood forest in Europe”, straddling Gironde and Landes, should “be endowed with aerial means of combat, especially in the summer”.
More than 1,700 hectares of moorland destroyed in the Monts d’Arrée, in Brittany
In Brittany, the “situation is under control in the northern sector” and the fire “fixed on the southern sector” of the Monts d’Arrée, where 130 firefighters and 40 firefighting machines were still present on Sunday morning July 24, a also announced the prefecture of Finistère, stressing that “the site is subject to extreme vigilance and permanent surveillance”. On Saturday, a Dash water bomber plane arrived as reinforcements was able to make six drops in the area during the day, and made it possible to “fix all the fire” located in the southern sector in the town of Brasparts, a difficult area to access by land means, recalled the prefecture. Thursday, the latter had announced that the fire in the Arrée mountains was “under control” and that the situation was “totally stabilized”, but four new outbreaks had reactivated due to unfavorable weather conditions, in particular the wind.
In Brittany as in Gironde, if it is still too early to draw up a precise assessment, fauna and flora have paid a heavy price in the fires. On the Monts d’Arrée, a remarkable natural site, more than 1,700 hectares of moors, fir forests and leafy trees have been destroyed. In Gironde, more than 7,000 hectares of forest burned in La Teste-de-Buch and nearly 14,000 hectares in Landiras, in a monoculture of pines.
According to the first observations of the Armorique Regional Natural Park, the fire “would not have a dramatic impact on emblematic bird species (…) such as the Eurasian curlews and the Saint-Martin and Eurasian harriers” because these birds are migrating or able to fly, even young ones. The concern is more about “insects, molluscs, small mammals and birds, amphibians, reptiles which probably could not (have) escaped”, continues the regional natural park.
Fears are similar in Gironde. “The most impacted fauna is that with the least ability to move: non-flying insects, reptiles and amphibians and the young of both birds and bats”, while the animals are in the middle of a period of rearing of the young, told AFP Paul Tourneur, biodiversity project manager at the National Office of Landes Nord Aquitaine Forests. Large ungulates, such as deer, may flee more easily.
“A heritage that we will not find overnight”
The ONF manages the national forest of La Teste-de-Buch, one of the rare natural forests of the Landes, along the ocean. “It was mainly a forest of maritime pines but with specificities, islands of deciduous trees, pedunculate oaks and cork oaks, some of which are very old, 200 to 300 years old”, describes Paul Tourneur. “It’s a heritage that we will not find overnight.” It is home to “a fairly rare bat”, the large noctule, the largest chiroptera in Europe, and “we have fears for the colony which was present”, he continues. This national forest is also home to “rare habitats and species dependent on these environments that are not found elsewhere”, he continues, citing “the red pipite, a steppe bird” or “the largest lizard in Europe, the ocellated lizard”, a protected species. “All of this had to go to the barbecue unfortunately,” he says fatalistically.
The Cistude Nature association is familiar with this forest and that of Landiras, also devastated by the flames. “It is a monoculture of pines, relatively poor in terms of biodiversity, but it enclaves natural environments, lagoon systems”, says Maud Berroneau, specialist in amphibians and reptiles. Live there in particular the viviparous lizard or two species of protected butterflies, the sedge fadet and the succise checkerboard. Regarding the lizards, “we hope they have buried themselves in the ground, as we were already in a period of heat wave and drought for several weeks”, indicates Maud Berroneau. “The fire passes more quickly over these wetlands, maybe that’s what will save them,” she hopes. The butterflies, themselves, “were in the state of caterpillars”, according to Akaren Goudiaby, who follows these populations of insects in the Landiras sector. “We can see very well on the aerial photographs that the area has burned and very probably the populations have disappeared”, he regrets.
At a time when the fires are under control, but not completely extinguished, the question arises of the future of these forests in Gironde. “First, we will observe what is happening. The pine is a pioneer species, used to fairly poor soils. The problem is that the soil has heated to a depth of more than one meter”, indicates Paul Tourneur . “We wonder if natural regeneration will be able to take place. If that is not the case, we will have to use other tools”, he continues.
“Ecosystems have always adapted to pressures, but this is the first time that we have had such rapid change with climate change”, notes Loïc Obled, director general of the French Office for Biodiversity. “If the fires are recurrent, the regeneration capacity of ecosystems can be all the more affected,” he warns.