Fires: can we speak of a “mega

At least 650 hectares of brush have burned in the department since Thursday, injuring at least 18 firefighters. The emergency services speak of a “mega-fire”, a term little used for a phenomenon observed in France.

The pictures are impressive. In the Cévennes region, in Bordezac, in the Gard, a major fire broke out Thursday around 5 p.m. 660 firefighters are still mobilized this Friday morning, while 650 hectares have burned. The emergency services even speak of “mega-fire”, a term usually used more in the United States or Australia, where large fires have hit these large spaces in recent years. Can we use this term in the case of the fire affecting the Gard?

“This fire is, how to say, a mega-fire”, worries Thursday the commander Tanguy Sagères, in charge of communication of the firefighters of the Gard, in the face of the flames threatening thousands of hectares in the Cévennes.

Between the Dixie Fire, which burned at least the equivalent of Los Angeles, California in 2021, or the fires that ravaged Australia in 2020, mega-fires have sadly entered common parlance. But what exactly are we talking about?

Relatively recent, the term “mega-fire” was only used for the first time in 2005 by Jerry Williams, head of the United States Forest Service (USFS), in a report. According to the author, this type of fire is characterized by its “extraordinary” character both “in terms of size, complexity and resistance”.

A report from the Senate, published in 2019, considers for its part that we speak of mega-fires in the case of fires on the surface and at the “exceptional” speed of propagation, causing damage “far superior” to common fires. However, he specifies that there is no exact definition of this phenomenon “covering different realities depending on the country”.

An area “huge for the Gard”

Due to the fairly broad nature of the definition of mega-fires, Éric Brocardi, spokesperson for the National Federation of Firefighters, warns against abuse of language.

“We must distinguish the mega-fire part in the media sense of the term and the real part, that is to say really the kinetics of the fire”, he estimates on BFMTV.

In the case of the fire currently affecting the Gard, it is however possible to speak of “mega-fires”, according to him. If the fire affecting the Cévennes is far from reaching record figures, it is nonetheless harmless.

“We are on a covered fire surface of 680 hectares. It is enormous for an area like the Gard”, he estimates.

“Uncontrollable”

“It’s nothing with what is happening in the United States,” he concedes. “Except that it comes to touch the houses, it pushes disasters to the gates of cities and villages so these images can claim mega-fires”, he adds.

Moreover, the mode of propagation of the fire in Gard is similar to that identified for mega-fires, for the spokesperson for the firefighters, since it is “from the birth of the fire” of a fire with a “significant plume” and “uncontrollable”.

The “effective” action of the firefighters can however contain the nature of the fire, according to Éric Brocardi. But for the fire currently in progress in the Cévennes, the start of fire in a particularly steep area complicates the work of the firefighters.

The fire continued in the middle of the morning in the Gard, the inhabitants of Bordezac being invited to remain confined by the prefect. 18 firefighters were “slightly injured” during their intervention.

Juliette Desmonceaux with AFP

Fires: can we speak of a “mega-fire” in the Gard?