The giant fire last week on the Aumelas plateau covered 1,000 hectares, today it is a lunar landscape. It will take years to find the green hills again. But how long will it take?
The last fire of this magnitude in the Hérault department was on 31 August 2010 north of Montpellier in the cities Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel, Teyran, Assas, Guzargues.
We went to Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel to meet the mayor and the inhabitants to find out how long it had taken for the vegetation to regain its rights and to understand what lessons we have learned of this tragic fire.
We thought the whole village would burn
“We thought the whole village would burn “Christian has forgotten nothing of this terrible night in Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel, no more than Henry, who saved his house in extreme ice by helping the firefighters himself”I recall especially noise, creaks, it was impressive, and heat too“. For Laura, it is the color of the sky”and then the ashes falling on our houses and the columns of firemen arriving as reinforcements. We watched our memories go up in smoke, the places we went with our parents or our grandparents“.
The mayor of the village, Françoise Matheron was deputy mayor of Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel in 2010, she too has preserved particularly impressive photos “red lights that penetrated the village streetsfumes that made it difficult for us to breathe and flaming pine cones exploding everywhere“
A total of 3,000 hectares of vegetation had been destroyed, including 1,000 hectares in the commune of Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel alone, which has 2,200, so it is almost half of the area of the village burned down that night. Dozens of residents were evacuated.
The species most likely to burn have taken over
It took three to five years to regain the joy of going there
Thanks to the light spring rain, the landscape took on a green color the following year. “But it took 3 to 5 years to enjoy walking in the bush again. We are starting to get a little regrowth, the animals have returned” explains Françoise Matheron
Today, the landscape is completely healed, but it’s not quite the same vegetation.”It is much lower vegetation. There are no longer tall Aleppo pines like before or acorn-oaks. It is kermes oaks that grow back and smaller pines, to the detriment of other species that have almost disappeared, namely arbutus. Vegetation that sprouts is the most likely to burn.”
Residents also note that it is no longer quite the same. “It takes 25 or 30 years for it to really grow back.” says Henry. “The colors have returned thanks to the small pine trees that have grown back, but it will take time before they become big trees”. Laura feels it is necessary be patient “it’s not like in our memories, time will do its work”
Obligation to clear 100 meters around houses
This fire therefore affected an entire village, and on the municipality’s side we wanted to learn from it very quickly. “We have extended the legal obligation to clear brush from 50 to 100 meters around houses. The first 50 meters are the responsibility of the owners, and the municipality pays for the subsequent 50. Today, 5% of our territory is urbanized, the rest is vegetation that risks burning at any time. We have also developed pastoralism for clearing brush, and developed green cuts so that the fire can be stopped more easily.“.
Living in a pine forest is a privilege, but it comes with responsibilities
All these measures have been quite well accepted by the inhabitants, but we must constantly do pedagogy.”It is a great privilege to live in the middle of the pine trees, but it entails great duties, it is a question of solidarity, it is about protecting each other. The legal obligations that are not met by some are fire risks for others.
And the mayor of Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel does not hesitate to say it: If another fire were to break out in her village, it will prioritize sending firefighters out to save homes whose owners have complied with clearance obligations.
What advice should be given to the mayors of the Aumelas Plateau?
Today, the mayor of Saint-Bauzille-de-Montmel is also the regional councilor responsible for fire risk, that is, if the subject is close to her heart. She will not hesitate to put her experience at the service of the mayors of the municipalities on the Aumelas plateau recently hit by a gigantic fire. And can already now give them some advice to facilitate the return of vegetation.
Clean as much as possible and then leave nature alone
“I would say clean up what they can. Anything that’s a big burnt tree you have to clean up, get them out pretty quickly. Afterwards, it is above all necessary to leave nature alone. The insects come back very quickly. They are the ones who will come back the fastest, then the birds, then the hares, the wild boars. So above all we must leave nature alone and it will slowly recover, as well as biodiversity. Already in the spring it will be better. Clean up and you will see, after the rain you will already have green grass. Well, sure it’s not the pretty trees before, but it’s already for morale, it’s already better.”