We were going to post a series of photographs from the bi-annual Fête médiévale at our neighbouring village of Les Arcs, a spectacular, colourful and well-attended event. All being well, we will blog on this over the next couple of weeks but instead we need to talk about the event of the week, which has been the sad and widespread fires in our region. We mentioned in spring the concerns, given the low winter rainfall, that this would be a bad summer for fires and these have proved to be justified.
There haven’t really been any fires particularly close to us, although we have been able to see the smoke from some of them 20-30 miles away along the coast. We could hear and see the water bombers flying over us throughout the days of the fires. (Click here to see a video clip of them picking up water from the sea.)
Two things are worth mentioning about the press coverage. The first is that the region is a very large one – PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) is one and a half times the size of Wales – so that the fires have been only on a very small percentage of the area. The second is that fires near holiday beaches (“Hell comes to Paradise!”) make for spectacular imagery in what is a quiet news season. Nevertheless a number of firefighters have been injured, some badly, and the damage to property and the environment is enormous. All being well, with careful management, the environment should recover, but it will take some time. We’ve included some photos we took in spring when we walked through the site of last year’s big blaze near Correns. The lower vegetation was coming back, but the trees will take much longer.
Some of the causes of the recent fires are straightforward. Too many people down here, including some who wilfully ignore the excellent fire regulations. At least one fire was apparently caused by an open barbecue, something banned for the summer period. There may have been arson, say the police. Climate change is also probably a contributory factor. Also interesting from an environmental point of view is the fact that the decline of agriculture in this region – it simply doesn’t pay enough in what is one of the most expensive parts of France – has given rise to the spread of forests over abandoned fields. A distinctly wacky view has been aired by one mayor: namely that it’s all to do with the wolves! He reckons that the rising wolf population has scared off shepherds and stopped grazing, allowing reforestation. Sorry M. le Maire it’s just economics.
More positively however the scale and frequency of forest fires has actually decreased also over the past few decades, due to better prevention and intervention.
As we write this the fires appear to have died down. Nevertheless, we still have August ahead of us and it’s unlikely that any of the firemen are going to be taking a holiday. On the other hand, some of the ‘African’ bird species that we get here seem to be enjoying the hot conditions. Below is a European Roller in one of the very dry fields near our house.