France 3: ""A number of castles are very vulnerable": fire risk training to preserve heritage".

21 April 2024 Press review
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When historical heritage goes up in smoke, the grief and financial loss are usually severe. But there are solutions to prevent this risk. The Dordogne is home to almost 1,000 châteaux.

Châteaux owners are still poorly informed about the risks and losses of a fire. - © France 3 Périgords

Aubusson tapestries, a listed mythological cabinet and French ceilings. Château de Puymartin conceals a priceless treasure trove. As exceptional as it is, this heritage, like so many other Périgord monuments, is fragile when exposed to fire. "It's a historical treasure that would be impossible to rebuild if it were destroyed. It would be a major loss," says Marie-Sophie Rouchon, the château's owner.

In 2015, the Château de la Tour-Blanche-Cercles was the victim of a fatal fire. - Archives INA - France 3 Périgords

Vulnerable to fire

Five years ago, when Notre-Dame de Paris lost a piece of its history in the flames, the risk of fire came back to haunt the owners of castles and historic monuments. More recently, the 400-year-old Copenhagen Stock Exchange suffered a fire on April 16.

In the département, however, fires have struck before. In 1968, at Château d'Hautefort, and more recently in 2015, at Château de la Tour Blanche. "A number of châteaux are highly vulnerable, despite their rich heritage. Their electrical installations are not up to standard, there are no fire extinguishers or water points, and access is difficult," says Alain Rivière, the Dordogne's departmental fire director.

Dominique de la Fouchardière knows these exceptional locations well. He is responsible for 2000 of them in France. "Did you see the fire department? That's the first thing I ask owners. They're often surprised and tell me it's a good idea, but that they hadn't thought of it," explains Dominique de la Fouchardière, an insurer specializing in historic monument insurance. True, concedes the owner of Château de Puymartin."We're so busy with our business that we sometimes forget the tragedy that fire can cause," admits Marie-Sophie Rouchon.

Saving precious hours

It was time to act, and fast. On April 16, the first Assises du Patrimoine was held at Bourdeilles, one of the 897 castles in the Périgord region. Around a hundred castle owners and managers responded to the call. Facing them were insurers, but above all, the department's firefighters, who came to remind us of the importance of anticipation in such events. "Here too, there's a rich architectural and movable heritage. The idea is to make all owners and conservators aware that all this is vulnerable", explains Alain Rivière.

"If the firefighters were able to discover the castles beforehand, that's two to three hours saved on a fire."

Dominique de la Fouchardière

Insurer specialized in historic monuments

The first step is to make the premises more secure. " We absolutely need fire detection systems and fire extinguishers," says Alain Rivière. The next step is to prepare for the fire department's intervention, thanks in particular to a safeguard plan that lists both the historic establishments and their treasures. "This safeguard plan enables us to list and prioritize the works present. We also determine which works need to be evacuated, where they can be grouped together, and which need to be protected on site", explains the SDIS departmental director.

The châteaux of the Dordogne are home to thousands of historic objects and works of art. - © France 3 Aquitaine

A real time-saver that could save thousands of heritage works. Château de Bourdeilles is set to join the list shortly. And it won't be the last, following the message delivered at the conference.

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By Julie Chapman and Camille Michelland

Published April 21, 2024

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