20 Dec 2004

French fire experts highlight problems in New Caledonia

11:09 am on 20 December 2004

French experts assessing the fire situation in New Caledonia say the territory is ill-prepared and poorly equipped to deal with the unprecedented bush fires.

Tens of thousands of hectares have been burnt in the past months amid concern that the bush fires will change the landscape of the main island.

The Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper says the experts found that little was done to prevent the fires, there is a shortage of firefighters, poor co-ordination of services and a lack of communications.

They told a news conference in Noumea that large fire fighting planes could be sent from France but that would be very expensive and possibly inappropriate for the area.

The French high commissioner, Daniel Constantin, says New Caledonia has to change its way of dealing with fires and abandon its policy of only wanting to protect people but not the forests.