Forest Fires in France and Property Protection
Monday 05 September 2016
In many areas of France there is a legal obligation on owners to maintain the grounds of their property to reduce the risk of fire spread near forests and woodlands.In France each year tens of thousands of hectares of forest go up in smoke, a huge ecological and economic loss to the country. Mercifully, there are very few deaths.
Most of the fires are small scale, with 95% covering less than 5 hectares, testimony perhaps to the efficiency of the civil security services in monitoring and dealing with them, but highlighting the sheer number of fires that occur.
In order to reduce the risk of such fires occurring, home owners in South East and South West France are obliged by the code forestier to undertake regular grounds clearance.
This obligation applies specifically in the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and in the departments of Ardèche and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
The requirement for 'débroussaillage' also applies to many other areas of the country by specific prefectoral decree.
The purpose of such work is to limit the risk of propagation of a fire by creating a rupture of the vegetal ground cover between the woodland and surrounding areas.
The general requirement is subject to local variation, but states that if your property is within 200 metres of a forest or woodland you are required to undertake débroussaillage to a depth of 50 metres around the house, which may be increased to 100 metres by local regulation.
It also applies along the length of any access drive to the property, to a maximum of 10 metres either side of the drive.
In urban areas the obligation for regular maintenance applies over the total area of the property.
In practice, the law is probably ignored as much as it is observed, as many councils do not have either the resources or inclination to ensure proper compliance. Much will depend on where the property is located, and it would be unwise to assume that it need not concern you. A fine is potentially payable for non-compliance.The local council can also step in to undertake the work, for which they can counter-charge.
However, it is not merely the risk of a fine that should concern home owners for, in the event of a forest fire in which your property is affected, your insurer may well be unwilling to pay out if they consider that your lack of débroussaillage has been a contributory factor.
There are separate regulations that control the times in a year when garden fires etc are not permitted, with details available from your local mairie.
**Article Updated July 2018
This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 05/09/2016, 07/08/2018