Environment.  After the fires in La Hague: “The forest is more than ever the environment of the future”

Environment. After the fires in La Hague: “The forest is more than ever the environment of the future”

Jean-François Jacquet had a few meters2 of the forest burned in the bog fire in La Hague (Manche) in July 2022. Here you can see where the fire started. (© La Presse de la Manche)

Jean-Francois Jacquet, President Francylva (Federation of Unions of Private Foresters) of Calvados and sleevehe answered our questions two months later the fires that ravaged La Haag during the summer of 2022.


News: The forest has been burning since this summer. You yourself were in a cold sweat at your property in Beaumont-Hague…

Jean-Francois Fransylva: The fire really evoked strong emotions in me. The fire licked the edge of my property and burned 400 yards. However, it stopped 100 meters from the forest thanks to the very professional intervention of the firemen and the wind from the front. I wasn’t too worried at the time because I thought the deciduous forest wouldn’t catch fire easily. The Brittany fire proved me wrong. I was mainly concerned with conifers that were 150 meters away… With this type of tree I had the opportunity to see a fire in Corsica, the trees literally explode and flaming cones are thrown. That’s unbelievable !

What are the solutions to stop our forests from burning?

J.-FF: 80% of fires are caused by malicious acts. So how do you do it? Who wants to make a fire. We can’t help it! However, and as Fransylva (an association of private forest owners) recommends, we can foresee tragedies. First by making sure, especially with these softwood stands. Then by avoiding, especially in the case of drought, too many visitors. I believe that even public forests should be closed in case of heat and drought. It is precisely by limiting the danger that we prevent forest fires. It is also necessary to show common sense, especially to avoid forestry work in hot weather, not to make campfires, grill… Finally, precautions are necessary. For example, access for firefighters must be provided. Our forests have paths, we have to think about turning points as well. A fire engine will not be able to engage if it cannot make a U-turn.

Many voices are raised to establish fire zones. Is this the solution?

J.-FF: It can… But it’s not that simple. Remember that 50% of private timber owners own less than 14 hectares. The fire zone should be large enough to prevent the fire from spreading when the tree falls. If it’s 30 meters, it must be that wide! This is not possible on small areas. Especially after that they need to be maintained. If there is even a little grass, it is useless. And who pays for their maintenance?

Is the forest then doomed?

J.-FF: No way ! First of all, because each owner has an obligation in his management plan to restore and therefore to replant. So fires are a disaster for biodiversity, but forests will grow back. And they have to! They are the answer to many environmental problems. Mainly because it absorbs CO2, but also because wood is a non-polluting material. For example, plastic cutlery is disappearing and replaced by wooden forks and knives, not to mention the energy… Many understood this and rushed to pellet stoves. But today we are unable to meet the demand! So, more than ever, the forest is the environment of the future! But it must be protected and supported. Planting and maintaining wood is expensive. 5 to 10,000 euros are needed to plant one hectare. So imagine the cost of simply replanting burnt wood… 80,000 hectares burned…

Solène LAVEN’s interview

Ferns are back on the cliffs of Pierres-Pouquelées in Vauville (Manche).
Ferns are back on the cliffs of Pierres-Pouquelées in Vauville (Manche). (© La Presse de la Manche)

Landes de la Hague: nature is starting to take back its rights

Amid the lunar decoration created by fire, on the heights of the Pierres-Pouquelées site in Vauville (Manche), life is beginning to reappear. A few ferns, molinia and other rodents start poking their noses into the charred areas.

Return to normal in 8 to 10 years

In mid-July 2022, two fires, one in Vauville and the other in Herquemoulin, disfigured the green environment overlooking the Channel Islands. Within three days, almost 40 hectares, 39 to be exact, were destroyed by flames. Those arson fires – a 26-year-old man was charged shortly after the incident – have been exacerbated by weather conditions and drought this summer. The northwest end of the Cotentin, known for its wet climate, had been suffering from drought for several months.

“Everything was very dry,” recalls Yves Cottebrune, president of the Discovering La Hague association. The moors of Vauville, with very sparse vegetation, were therefore consumed very quickly. “Deep, a widespread species, was formerly used as fuel. Their calorific value is very high. I know old people who used them to make firewood to keep warm,” comments the tour guide, who has been offering cave tours in Jobourg for thirty years.

While the violence of these fires was greater than the April 2003 fire in La Hague, how to explain, just two months later, the return of lush vegetation? You have to dig for it, literally. There is actually a bank of seeds under the ground, always ready to produce new shoots: “It can take years to germinate, explains Sébastien Houllier, La Hague coastal ranger. Among others, fern and molinia are pyrophilic, which is a characteristic of a living organism that benefits from fire. »

However, if life is gradually restored, it will take “8 to 10 years” for the affected sectors to return to their normal pace.

“We can hope that with the wet winter the reefs will be very green again by next spring,” says the environmental specialist from The Hague.

Sebastien LUCOT


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