The network of 22 watchtowers dotting this forest in Gironde in southern France is the first line of defence against wildfires, which can begin with just a wisp of smoke on the horizon. Escutia, a former moving company owner, has a contract with the fire service to work up in the tower for six months, over the summer fire season, but he also works outside of his contract as a volunteer. He is in his fourth year on the fire service. When the July blaze was really bad, a handful of times Escutia finished his shift on the tower at 10pm and joined the firefighters on the frontline at midnight for a shift until 7am, then returned to the watchtower at 10am. “I didn’t sleep very much,” he said, with a smile.