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.
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.