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WILDFIRES

How to protect your French property from wildfires

The wildfires raging in south west France could unfortunately become a more regular event as the climate crisis worsens - so what steps should you take if you live in France or own property there?

How to protect your French property from wildfires
How can you protect your French property from wildfires. Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / POOL / AFP

As France sizzled under a July heatwave, wildfires broke out across the country. Fires have long been a hazard in the south, but now environmentalists and firefighters are warning that in the years to come they are likely to become more common and affect a wider area.

So how can householders in wildfire hotspots prepare so they are ready to leave their homes quickly if necessary? And what can you do to protect your property in the first place?

READ ALSO French firefighters at wildfire site: ‘We were faced with a wall of flame 50m high’

If you need to evacuate

Obviously, follow the instructions of emergency services and if there are fires in the area keep tuned in to local news sources or follow official social media accounts from local authorities and emergency services.

But, what should you take with you if you have to evacuate? France’s Sécurité Civile service this week published an infographic of an emergency evacuation kit.

The must-haves it lists include: 

  • Keys for your house and car;
  • Photocopies of ID papers, insurance etc;
  • Prescribed medicines, as necessary;
  • Some cash;
  • A portable radio, rechargeable or with spare batteries;
  • Telephone charger;
  • A 1.5 litre bottle of water;
  • Food that does not need cooking;
  • A multipurpose penknife;
  • A first-aid kit;
  • Toiletries;
  • Warm and weatherproof clothing;
  • Emergency blanket;
  • A whistle;
  • A torch – rechargeable, or with spare batteries;
  • Reflective vests for everyone in your group;
  • Board games and books/magazines.

Warning signals

But how can you know if there’s a wildfire in your area in time to collect together these vital items ready for if you do have to leave your home at a moment’s notice?

As well as following official announcements from local authorities, France now operates a text alert system that will send a message to all active mobile phones in certain areas.

READ ALSO What to do if you see a wildfire in France

It has replaced the app-based Population Alert and Information System that proved ineffective.

The “FR-Alert” system has been operational in France since mid-June and should make it possible to warn the inhabitants of a sector, a département, a region of a critical situation such as a natural disaster, major fire, chemical or industrial accident, or attack. 

It uses the mobile telephone network and uses “cellular broadcasting”, which means the message will be transmitted to all mobiles – even phones belonging to tourists – in a certain area, in a few seconds, as a priority alert message on a dedicated channel. 

Keeping your home safe

The good news is that no one is entirely helpless to prevent fires reaching their property in the first place. There are things you can do – some of them you are legally obliged to do – to keep your home safe in the first place.

READ ALSO ‘Be vigilant’: The parts of France braced for forest fires this summer

France’s pompiers, who know a thing or two about fire safety and prevention, reminded householders living close to wooded areas of their legal requirement to clear and maintain residential areas – this is known as débroussaillage

Residents in areas most vulnerable to wildfires are required to clear and maintain garden vegetation in summer periods, when the risk of fires is heightened. It refers to pruning trees and cutting grass within a certain area of houses and other buildings to prevent fires reaching them.

The rules are listed in France’s Code Forestier and are applied where required – notably in départements in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Corsica, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. 

In general, people who live in départements where rules are in place must cut back their gardens if their property comes within 200 metres of woodland.

Failing to do this can result in a fine of up to €1,500.

Second-home owners may need to hire a gardener or caretaker to ensure that this is done if they are not at the property during the summer months.

Pompiers also list the following advice to protect property in fire risk areas.

  • Do not install plastic gutters;
  • Do not store wood, fuel and butane in the immediate vicinity of the house;
  • If you have a swimming pool, make it available to the fire brigade in case of fire;
  • Avoid planting particularly flammable plants such as Kermes oaks, cypresses, mimosas, eucalyptus, thorny plants and conifers – and do not plant too close to your house;
  • Cut tree branches so that they are more than 3 metres from the facade of your property;
  • Do not burn anything between April and September.

Public awareness

The government is also considering launching awareness and public education campaigns – perhaps including an annual awareness day – to help people “better recognise the risks” and “share with them the best behaviours to adopt in challenging situations”.

READ ALSO How France has adapted to tackle forest fires

The Fédération nationale des sapeurs-pompiers has already called for better public information about appropriate action during extreme weather events such as wildfires and floods, as climate change takes hold.

“No one knows how to act in a forest when it’s 40C,” the Fédération’s vice president Eric Flores said.

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PROPERTY

What to expect from your 2023 French property tax bills

The annual demands for property taxes have begun arriving at households across France - and many people will notice quite a difference to last year's bill.

What to expect from your 2023 French property tax bills

Every year in September and October the French tax office sends out bills to households across France relating to property taxes – these are separate to income tax bills, which arrive over the summer.

The autumn bills are usually made up of three parts; taxe foncière, taxe d’habitation and the redevance audiovisuelle.

However, system changes to all three parts mean that for some people bills will be be much lower than last year, while others will have nothing at all to pay.

Here’s what changes;

Redevance audiovisuelle – this was the TV licence and was charged at €138 per household, with some exceptions for pensioners or people who had no TV.

This year, it has been scrapped for everyone (including second-home owners) so most people’s bills are €138 less than last year.

Taxe d’habitation – this is the householder’s tax, paid by the inhabitant of the property – whether you rent it or own it. This is gradually being phased out, a process that started in 2019. It has been done based on income, with those on lower incomes having the charge scrapped first until it is gradually scrapped for everyone – with the exception of very high earners and second home owners.

So depending on your income level, you may have already had the tax phased out, or it may be phased out for you this year, or you may be paying a reduced rate this year.

These two changes are part of a tax giveaway from president Emmanuel Macron, and at the bottom of your tax bill you will find a note explaining how the charges have changed this year, and what you would have paid without the reductions.

It will look something like this;

Taxe foncière – this is the property owners’ tax and is paid on any property that you own – if you own the home you live in you may need to pay both taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière and if you are a second-home owner you will also pay both.

In contrast to the other two taxes, however, this one has been going up in many areas.

In fact, it’s connected to the taxe d’habitation cut – local authorities used to benefit from taxe d’habitation, so the phasing out has left many of them short of money. In some areas, they have reacted by raising taxe foncière.

This tax is calculated based partly on the size and value of the property you own (which is why if you do any major renovations or add a swimming pool you need to tell the tax office) and partly on the tax level decided by your local authority. 

This means that the actual rate varies quite widely between different parts of France, but in some areas it has gone up by 20 percent.

You can find more about how the tax is calculated, and how to challenge your bill if you think it is excessive, HERE.

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