At the head of the procession which crosses the disaster-stricken pine forest of La Teste-de-Buch, in the Bassin d’Arcachon, volunteers pull containers from their pick-up to install them between the bushes, at a distance from the still smoking trees.

At the back, four young men fill buckets at the tap of the cistern and pour them into the drinking troughs, arranged along the track where the fire started, and the departmental road which borders the Dune of Pilat.

After eleven days of struggle, the fire is now fixed, the prefecture said on Saturday. But a few flames are still nibbling at the trunks, closely watched by helmeted firefighters who regularly overtake the convoy.

Led by the Departmental Directorate of Territories and the Sea (DDTM) and by the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB), the operation was set up at the initiative of local hunting associations.

“The advance of the flames forced the animals to flee their territory and caused great stress. They find themselves far from their usual water points or too disoriented to find any”, explains Frédéric Moras, president of the Municipal Association. hunter (ACCA) of La Teste-de-Buch.

In a lunar landscape, in the midst of a drought, “deer quickly become dehydrated and can die exhausted”, he continues.

– “Heartbreaking” –

In the heart of the forest, near an old, completely burnt-out cabin, Mélodie Miquel, a hunter and volunteer, removes debris full of ashes from a concrete basin, in order to install a water point there.

The 34-year-old young woman came from the Landes in a truck to bring to La Teste-de-Buch the dozens of containers collected in her region.

In khaki and plastic boots, Wilfried Lozes, 18, adds a few twigs to the surface of the bins “to prevent mice from drowning in them” and prevent deer from drinking.

“The objective of these water points is also that the animals do not leave their natural environment to go to drink in the city. It is dangerous for them and it could cause collisions”, specifies Renaud Laheurte, head of the DDTM in Gironde, who came to supervise the operation.

A little further on, Frédéric Moras bends over with a sigh over the corpse of a young deer with burnt legs.

“Seeing the forest like that is heartbreaking. As hunters, we have the right to take animals but also the duty to protect wildlife,” he says.

– “Frozen” hunting –

Frédéric Moras estimates that “about 30%” of the livestock in the pine forest could have been decimated by the fire. The Departmental Federation of Gironde Hunters will give a precise assessment of the losses “within a few months”.

While waiting for the herd to reform, it has “frozen” hunting in this area at least until the end of the year.

For the OFB, the installation of water points in the forest is an initiative “adapted to the circumstances”.

The administration, on the other hand, warns: distributing food to wild animals would be counterproductive.

“Above all, they must not be familiarized with food that they cannot obtain themselves. This could distort their instincts by sedentarizing them”, specifies Nicolas Surugue, New-Aquitaine regional director of the OFB, who recalls that access to the forest is still prohibited to the public.

While waiting for the area to be secured, the firefighters will replenish the water tanks during their rounds.