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In 2017, a season of fires “denser” than in previous years

Ⓒ AFP – PASCAL GUYOT – | The Nîmes-Garons (Gard) civil defense aircraft base, in southern France, on 29 August 2017

The season of forest fires in France has been “denser” in 2017 than in recent years, with 16,000 hectares burned against about 10,000 in 2016, said Tuesday the head of the civil defense aircraft base of Nimes-Garons (Gard).

Roger Gennaï, the head of this new base (Basc) inaugurated in April, said during a press briefing that it was necessary to go back to 2003 to find a greater number of hectares burned in the Mediterranean arc with more than 60,000 hectares .

The 73 pilots of the Basc carried out this season a total of 2,600 flying hours to fight the fires, twice the year 2016 to the same date. An hour’s flight from a Canadair cost about 8,000 euros, which is less than a helicopter, he added.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – Pascal GUYOT – | A Canadair bombs water on a fire near Saint-Pons-de-Mauchiens, 40 km from Montpellier (south), August 9, 2017

“Among the specific features of this year,” he added, “very high water stress and a concentration of fires in the Southeast, whereas in 2016 it was the reverse, with significant fires in The Southwest and in particular in the Pyrenees-Orientales “.

Transferred from Marignane (Bouches-du-Rhône), where it had been since 1963, the base had 23 water bombers (12 Canadair, 9 Tracker, and two Dash 8s) and three Beechcraft reconnaissance aircraft.

“The more we steal, the more we break”, underlined Roger Gennaï, evoking in particular an “incident” happened on Sunday and which is the subject of investigations by the Bureau investigation accident (BEA): a Canadair was damaged during A complicated “scooping” on the Rhone when he intervened on a fire that burned 30 hectares in an inhabited and tourist area in Collias (Gard).

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA – | Firefighters fight against Pietracorbara in Corsica on 11 August 2017

A video posted on YouTube shows a first Canadair bailing out of Vallabrègues (Gard), but a second strikes the mast of a recreational craft and disconnects it while several people are on the deck and watch the aircraft start again . Lieutenant-Colonel Michaël Bernier, communications officer for the Civil Security confirmed to AFP the nature of this incident which did not injure. In addition to the investigation of the BEA, the General Inspectorate of Civil Security was seized, he said. The two investigations aim to “try to determine the causes” of this “rare incident” while the aircraft are piloted by “experienced personnel”, he said.

Mr. Gennaï pointed out that “scooping is more risky than dropping”.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – BORIS HORVAT – | Area burnt and devastated by fires near Carnoux-en-Provence (southeast), 22 August 2017

On the other hand, he refused to return to the summer polemic concerning the quality and quantity of the air means of fire fighting.

The National Civil Aviation Aircraft Union (SNPNAC majority) had denounced during the summer the unavailability of certain aircraft in maintenance, considering that this posed operational problems, which denies the direction of the Civil Security . The latter has forbidden the pilots to express themselves during the visit of journalists on the base Tuesday morning.

The campaign against forest fires in France ends between September and October, when a second campaign begins in Reunion.

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