Forest Fires sweep Fontainebleau

A fire most likely caused by a bonfire consumed a large portion of the forest in the popular climbing area of Gorge aux Chats on the night of 25th September. A wooded area estimated at 14,000m2 has burned to the ground.

Forest fires are becoming increasingly common in Fontainebleau. An image from last month., 135 kb
Forest fires are becoming increasingly common in Fontainebleau. An image from last month.
© Ville de Fontainebleau

It is unclear at what time exactly the fire started, but the fire brigade worked through the night to control the outbreak of flames, which was most likely caused by a bonfire started by people bivvying. "It is very likely that climbers were involved since the affected area of Gorge aux Chats is visited mostly by climbers," commented an officer from the National Forestry Office (ONF).

A few weeks ago, a large fire destroyed the crag Rocher de la Salamandre and remains of a bonfire were found on-site. The bonfire was in close proximity to climbable rocks and was also most likely started by climbers, but another officer at the ONF said that the organisation does not want to antagonise the climbing community by making accusations.

While the ONF refrains from directly apportioning the blame to climbers, all circumstances seem to indicate climbers' involvement. Whoever started last night's fire in Gorge aux Chats might have believed that the heavy rain on Sunday reduced the risk of any flames spreading.

After a particularly dry summer, a strict fire ban has been enforced by the ONF, but it is not uncommon to see climbers smoking cigarettes in the forest, where even a spark can cause an outbreak of wildfire. Bonfires, barbeques, gas stoves and even cigarette ashes are all extremely dangerous and whoever is seen ignoring the fire ban may be subject to a fine.

"Because of the nature of the soil, the heat is retained in the ground, even when the fire on the surface has been put out," explains Thomas Couetdic, a member of the Fontainebleau fire brigade and an avid climber. "Even after hours or days, the flames resurface and the fire spreads without control.

"Most fires here are started as illegal campfires. People think they've put them out, and are never aware they've actually started a forest fire. The only solution is to drench the ground with incredible amounts of water, and even then, constant surveillance over several days is required to really be sure the fire is definitely out."

Yesterday morning, several fire engines could be seen cooling the ground at Gorge aux Chats by pumping water into the forest. The first estimation of damage was at around 8,000 m2 (2 acres) but firefighters on-site were leaning towards "the area of two football pitches" (3.5 acres).

We were not able to approach the affected area but we are awaiting photos from the site taken by the fire brigade.

Forums 48 comments

Thanks Doug, interesting stuff. I was aware of the painters but it's obvious here's a lot more gone on, even at Apremont there are big areas of young birch and it makes sense if the pines at franchard were planted. Does...
May seem like a stupid question but how has this affected the boulders in this area? I guess they aren’t currently climbable? Are they ruined forever?  Gutted as there is a boulder problem I really wanted to try...
I suspect a book on the history of the forest written in English might find a market. You're correct that in the past there were less wooded areas but Fontainebleau includes one of the earliest 'protected areas' in...
Interesting point. It would be interesting to read a bit more on the history (ashamed to say my french isn't good enough to get me very far on google). Two things that always strike me about the forest are the...
Absolutely not. There should be no fires in the forest at all unless it is part of a controlled burn program. Anyone having a fire should be prosecuted as they are a danger. However, for the local ecosystem a fire is...
The ONF is planning to get some infrastructure in place for Isatis. They had to choose between closing the Isatis car park (due to human waste and noise pollution) and making it a regulated bivvy spot (with a small...

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