Near Bégoux, on the GR36 path, the forest caught fire on Friday night. Arsonists? The firefighters themselves. No real flames, but a life-size exercise was organized across departments. An important maneuver as the summer season approaches. Reporting at the heart of the action.
“The teams do not know anything about the course of the evening, it brings them in real condition,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Virgile Moreau, who was the organizer of this life-size exercise on Friday. At the request of Lot Prefecture, the goal was to prepare firefighters for the summer season, which is set to get hot, by practicing against forest fires. These disasters require specific maneuvers, which must be reviewed regularly. Such exercises usually take place once a year.
The time is 16.00 and the final preparations are underway. It is out of the question to actually set the fire on. So barrels were set up, in the middle of the forest, where fuels will burn a little to symbolize real flames. If the organization is careful (a well-worked scenario, hours of thinking about plans and maps), it is impossible to predict the end of the exercise. “It all depends on the decisions of the head of the rescue operations, Anne-Sophie Lejeune. We will make our fire live according to her actions, there is no room for error,” said Lieutenant Colonel Moreau.
Amplifications on standby
The various barracks in Lot have been mobilized – as well as some firefighters from SDIS 82 (Tarn-et-Garonne). They are grouped into three GIFF (Forest Fire Intervention Group), a group that always consists of four trucks and a car with the group leader, ie about 18 people.
Around 7.10pm, the fictitious call went to Codis Cadurcien. Three hikers were walking on GR36 near Bégoux when smoke broke out. One of them has disappeared. A few hours earlier, Lieutenant Colonel Moreau confided: “It’s a distraction. It will allow us to see the cooperation with the various police services that have agreed to participate in this giant escape game!”
The first group is dispatched on site. The firefighters in GIFF 3 are waiting, near the logistics base, to be called in for reinforcements. They are mostly volunteers from Cazal, Lalbenque and Puy-l’Évêque. And for them, waiting means nothing. Under the command of group leader Jean-Philippe Oberdorff, they are already trying to plan the route and check the weather, especially to counteract the wind.
The waiting time seems long, under strong heat. An hour later, the fire has ravaged nearly ten acres, and the spread is rapid. Reinforcement is desired. GIFF 3 is on its way. On the road, the displacement is calculated. The group leader controls all his machines via radio. It is always the heaviest truck with the most powerful pump that brings the rear end up. But once arrived at GR, it is he who takes the lead. “It’s less manageable once it’s stopped, it’s not moving anymore,” explains Jean-Philippe Oberdorff. If this machine passes, so will the others.
On the spot, it is the group leader who gets out of the car first. He goes on reconnaissance. “We stay in the trucks with the windows closed until we receive the order to get out,” explains one of the firefighters.
Everyone must wear a balaclava, an F2 helmet and a special jacket to protect themselves. GIFF 3 is on the right side of the fire. They will attack from the front. But to get there, you have to climb. Equipped with tubes on the back that weigh about 30 kilos, they climb the mountain. A little technique for two willing women: make the turtle and climb on all fours while clinging to the branches in hopes that they will not give in.
Two firefighters remain below, at the foot of the vehicles. They are responsible for the water supply from the pipes. The largest truck holds about 4,000 gallons and pushes the water to the top of the unit. The second is used to supply the first if necessary. Water resources are one of the biggest concerns during a forest fire. In the city, trucks can be connected to a water supply. Impossible among the trees. “If there is a shortage, trucks make the shuttle service. We also try to play on the currents,” explains one of the leaders.
A successful operation
After almost two hours of exercise, everyone packs for the night. “It was a good maneuver,” concludes one of the firefighters with tired facial features. Successful operation. The Lot firefighters draw a few positive points from this, such as the very quick deployment of resources and good responsiveness from the teams, but also some areas for improvement. In fact, the command post, based in Mont Saint-Cyr, was too far from the intervention.
After the effort, comfort. A meal was arranged at Mont Saint Cyr to congratulate all the participants in this life-size exercise. Next training on June 24 in Rocamadour on a red plan (rescue for many victims) in anticipation of the Tour de France.