Clearing a safe area around your home is mandatory in some areas. This rule applies to individuals in places particularly exposed to the risk of fire. What is it for, how to clear brush effectively, on what surface…? Here is all the information on this legal obligation, useful to all.
Why unravel? What’s the point ?
If it is compulsory to clear the surroundings of houses, especially in the south of France, it is because this solution is both simple and effective in limiting the spread of fires. To fully understand the usefulness of this practice, one must remember how a fire spreads.
How does the fire progress?
Whatever the cause of the start of the fire (recklessness, malevolence or natural origin), the fire develops more or less quickly depending on several factors:
- The vegetation. The power and speed of the fire vary according to the moisture content of the vegetation it encounters, but also its composition and structure. A forest fire progresses with more force than a simple grass fire.
- Weather. Wind, heat, ambient humidity are all more or less aggravating factors. A fire progresses all the more quickly as it is fed by the wind and the drought.
- Le relief. A steep slope allows the rapid advance of a fire.
- Accessibility to the fire services.
Effect no. 1 of brush clearing: stop the fire!
Considering these elements, the clearing around a house has two effects:
- It reduces the action of fire and minimizes its impact on the areas to be protected, mainly homes and property. On properly cleared ground, the fire can no longer leap from tree to tree, from shrub to shrub… Deprived of food, it tramples, giving the emergency services time to neutralize it. Protected by a sufficient distance from the vegetation, your house remains out of reach.
- It secures emergency access, thus more effective in their action. The cleared area allows firefighters to circulate more easily and safely, allowing them to block the fire and protect your property.
Scrubbing, what is it exactly?
It is simply a matter of limiting the presence of plants and cleaning up flammable waste. The main actions are the pruning of trees and shrubs, the elimination of cutting residues and plant matter piled up on the ground (branches, leaves, etc.) and the removal of certain badly placed plants.
Am I concerned by the obligation to clear brush?
The clearing obligation is necessary in certain regions, in areas with a higher fire risk. The rules may also vary locally, depending on where you live. If you live near a forest area, mainly in the south of France, since 2001 the Forest Code has required you to clear your land.
- What are the regions concerned by this obligation? Mainly Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Corsica, New-Aquitaine, Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur. Other regions may be locally concerned, it is better to inquire at the town hall of your place of residence.
- Natural areas more vulnerable to fire risk are as follows: wooded or forest massifs, plantations, reforestation areas, Corsican maquis, Provencal scrubland and Landes pine forests. If your home is located at less than 200 meters from one of these areas, you must clear your land.
What is the required area to be cleared?
The obligation takes different forms depending on whether your residence (main or secondary) is located in an urban or non-urban area.
You live in a “non-urban” area
These are areas classified as AU, N, D, NA, NC or ND by town planning documents.
- In this case, you have the obligation to clear brush within a radius of 50 meters around any construction. This includes dwellings, but also outbuildings, cabins, swimming pools, etc. This distance can be increased locally to 100 meters by the mayor. If this distance covers an area located outside your property, on neighboring land, you must nevertheless carry out the clearing after having requested authorization from the owner. If he refuses you access, the clearing is then his responsibility and the town hall must be informed.
- In addition to clearing the land, you must clear an access area for fire vehiclescompletely free of all vegetation, on 4 meters of width and height.
- Along the accesses to your property (road, private path, etc.), clearing must be carried out around the house over a width of 10 meters on either side of the driveway.
- Even outside an area classified as “at risk of fire”, a stopped municipal or prefectural authorities may impose the clearing of land up to 50 meters around a dwelling. Better to inquire locally.
And in urban areas?
If you live in zone U (according to the urban planning document in force) and your property is located less than 200 meters from a natural area (wood or forest), you must clear your entire land, with or without construction. This obligation may apply locally to other areas listed by prefectural order, defined as being “at risk of fire”. Consult the town hall to find out whether or not the municipality has a local urban plan and whether it imposes larger clearing areas.
What is effective weeding?
If we refer to the Forest Code, clearing land aims to limit the spread of fire by carrying out “a break in the continuity, vertical and horizontal, of the plant cover”. On a wooded area, it is a question of pruning certain trees and removing others. No question of cutting down all the trees! Afforestation must be controlled, so as to remain harmonious. We can of course leave in place the seedlings of trees, necessary for the renewal of the wood.
To ensure the desired safety, good brushcutting must meet certain criteria:
- clear brush. Plants in the understory must be removed, with the exception of certain plants whose appearance is necessary for the landscape character. The only condition is that they do not occupy more than 30% of the total surface and that their distribution is homogeneous. Remove any trees, shrubs or hedges within 3 meters of the house.
- Clean the floor. Remove dry plants lying on the ground or piled up, within a radius of 10 meters around the house.
- Cut down the trees to impose a distance of 3 meters between the crowns. The felling of some trees may be necessary. The objective is for the tree crowns to be far enough apart to prevent the spread of the fire. Select trees in such a way as to favor the strongest ones. Prioritize the elimination of dead, dying or heavily branched trees. However, clumps of trees can be kept provided they are no more than 10 m in diameter. Between two clumps of trees, keep at least 5 meters apart.
- Remove all shrubs located under the trees to be preserved.
- prune the trees. Cut the low branches located on the first 2 or 3 meters of the trunk. The rule depends on the departments; check which one is in effect in your area. For large trees, pruning can be practiced on two thirds of their height.
- Eliminate all decorative plants arranged on the facade of the house or on the embankment.
Clearing, the double cool kiss effect
Clearing land has several beneficial effects.
- Stop fire. Your clearing prevents the progression of a fire and secures the emergency services. Your assets are protected.
- Your land is valued. Not only does your property gain aesthetically, but the land is also enhanced in terms of biodiversity. By removing certain plants, brush clearing allows other species to develop, which is not without consequences for plant and animal diversity.
- A tax credit may be granted to you if you employ a person to carry out your brush clearing site.
Your mission: maintain the clearing
Once the clearing is done, your land changes appearance. First, you will have to quickly evacuate plant waste. No question of leaving heaps of branches on the spot, under penalty of ruining your efforts. The first thing to do is to get rid of green waste in the recycling center. Failing this, you can burn them provided you declare this fire (“Use of Fire” and “Incineration of cut plants” declarations) and respect the safety measures provided, in particular the absence of wind and the provision of a reserve of water. The winter season is conducive to the burning of this waste, in small, very secure heaps. Of course, you can reuse the felling residues to fuel your wood heating or make shredded material for your agricultural needs.
Afterwards, the clearing must remain as it is, which requires some maintenance. Maintenance brushing is more effective and costs less when done annually. Use a brushcutter to help you remove the last regrowth of plants or shrubs.
NB : For safety reasons, clearing is always done in winter or early spring. It must be ready before the onset of the dry period. Never clear brush during the summer: the risk is too great of starting a fire. Regions at risk generally prohibit this practice in summer.
In the absence of clearing, what penalties?
If you own land bordering a risk zone, you are required to clear your land. When it comes to everyone’s safety, negligence is not tolerated. Of the controls can be carried out all year round by the town hall.
In the event of non-compliance with the obligation, the town hall puts the owner notice to carry out the work; he has one month to complete them.
After this timeif the owner turns a deaf ear, the town hall can carry out the clearing work itself and send him the invoice.
At the same time, the mayor has a whole arsenal of sanctions and fines:
- An administrative fine of 30 euros per square meter not cleared;
- A penalty payment of 100 euros maximum per day of delay, until the completion of the work;
- A criminal fine of 750 euros (which rises to 1500 € in a housing estate).
In the event of a fire, the responsibility of the owner is engaged at the penal level if the clearing is not done. If it is proven that his negligence favored the spread of the fire, he risks a fine of 15,000 euros and up to a year in prison.
The insurance company may also impose on the owner a franchise additional 5000 euros for his accommodation.