Lithuanian forests are becoming safer
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Forest fires are a great disaster which sometimes ends in ecological catastrophe. The damage is done not only to the live nature, but also economy; fire and smoke do harm to people’s lives; the danger of emergency evacuation arises not only to villages on the outskirts of forests but large towns as well. Rainless periods increase the danger of forest fires. Tens and thousands hectares of forests were on fire in Siberia and Far East in Russia, State of California in the USA, Greece, Croatia and Spain.
What is the situation in Lithuanian forests? We speak to the Deputy Director of the Directorate General of State Forests Petras KANAPIENIS.
Forest fires occur in Lithuania too. What is the statistics?
Each year is different. We had very droughty periods with extremely high fire danger. Burning the last-year grass is a great problem. Hardly the snow melts, hardly the soil becomes dry, lazy farmers try to hide the neglected lands by putting them on fire. They do not care about the irreparable damage they make to nature, destroy millions of live organisms. Very often they put on fire the stables and houses or even get chocked themselves. Early spring is the period of high-risk for foresters. You’ll never know when a neglectful farmer living near the forest will start to “mow” last-year grass with fire and the wind will bring the flames to the forest.
Observant foresters and many preventive measures have helped to control forest fires and do not allow them making damage to forests. It is storms and squalls that devastate forests now. The record of fires was registered in the year 2006 which was extremely droughty. Then the foresters extinguished 1545 fires, 1.2 thousand ha were destroyed and the average area of one fire was 0.78 ha.
Forest fires in 201-2012
2006 was the year which recorded the largest number of fires throughout the decade. We also had years with very few fires, like 2010: 110 fires were registered, the average area of one fire was 20 ares. There were 142 fires in 2011 which damaged 293 ha of forests and the average area of one fire grew to 2.06 ha. This large area damaged by one fire is very rare in forest fire statistics. The matter is that Trakasėdžiai peatbog was on fire in June last year. This peatbog is situated in the territory administered by Šilutė state forest enterprise. Peatbog fires are extremely treacherous, whereas their extinction sometimes lasts weeks or even months. The strong wind moved the flames from the peatbog to the nearby state forest. The fire damaged 268 ha of forest land, of which 61 ha were stands and the total area made even 92 per cent of forest land damaged by fire last year.
Preventive measures and identifying the source of fire are extremely important in protecting forests from fire. The system of fire prevention and the early establishment of the source of fire in state forests seems to function quite efficiently.
Forest enterprises give particular attention to fire prevention. For example, in 2011 5.04 million litas of own funds was allocated to ensure the functioning of the state system of fire prevention measures. 12.5 thousand km of firebreaks were mineralized; many other measures were put into practise.
We have one of the most efficient forest fire prevention systems. Extinction of forest fires and monitoring are in the hands of foresters. Forest enterprises have special rescue teams which are on duty twenty-four hours in droughty periods. As soon as a forest fire is reported, firemen immediately go to the place and take all the necessary actions. If needed, firemen of the neighbouring forest enterprises and municipalities come to help. We are happy that such cases are very rare. A few years ago, the EU financial support was used to modernize the fleet of rescue vehicles in forest enterprises, 30 new vehicles and other rescue machinery were purchased. Forest enterprises protect not only state but also private forests from fires. This service is financed from the own money of an enterprise.
Accusations are placed against foresters for the introduction of the overground automatic forest fire watch system. People say that it is very expensive and does not bring effect. How reasoned are these blames?
Reproaches regarding the high price and inefficiency of the overground automatic forest fire watch system (OAFFWS) are absolutely groundless. I would say they are rather a part of the months-lasting attack against state forests inspired interest groups of timber business. Some would be very happy to see disorder and disorganization in the sector of state forests.
Why have we launched OAFFWS? So far, forest fire monitoring was primitively organized. People were on duty in firewatch towers in forest enterprises and reported about the smoke by telephone to the person on duty in a forest enterprise or a forest district. No qualification was needed to watch fires and so wages of the people were low. Sometimes we had to employ careless people even who fell asleep and did not report about the fire. We could not tolerate this system, huge damage was done to forests.
How is the introduction of OAFFWS moving on? How is the system functioning in those forest enterprises which were the first to launch it?
The tender winner for OAFFWS introduction was UAB “Telekonta”. The National Paying Agency and Public Procurement Office strictly controlled the organization of the tender and examined its results. No violations of laws that could have had effect on the results of the tender were established. This is why no doubts about its transparency should arise. Thus it is very strange that after some time the Public Procurement Office has started raising doubts about the process of the tender.
Some people who have not got familiar with the system criticize its price by saying that cameras are too expensive. I would like explain to them that cameras used in OAFFWS are not primitive cameras used for watching a certain building. The system consists of detectors installed in towers, sophisticated software and communication equipment and a central desk. The detector is made of revolving mechanism and a camera with a special optical sensor which reacts to smoke and flame. The sensor is made and calibrated so as to cover the territory of about 700 square km (the camera rotates 360° in 4-8 minutes) and to detect a 10m x 10m smoke cloud at the distance of the least of 10 km (in good weather conditions 40 km) from the tower. The rotating detector analyses the protected territory. The danger signal is immediately sent to the central desk by radio waves or internet. The man on duty at the central desk is informed about the fire by the sound alarm signal. The monitor displays exact coordinates of the fire source and the operator just needs to make the decision.
The first OAFFWS were introduced in 2010 in Alytus, Druskininkai, Kazlų Rūda, Kretinga, Šiauliai and Varėna forest enterprises and Kuršių Nerija National Park. By 2013, OAFFWS will function in 24 forest enterprises having forests with I (high) and II (medium) fire risk. About 30 million litas of EU funds will be used for introduction of these systems by implementing projects according to the measure “Restoring forestry potential and introducing prevention actions” of Rural Development Programme for Lithuania 2007-2013. OAFFWS will allow getting more exact coordinates of the fire source what will help to reach the fire quicker. This means that our forests will become safer.
Leonardas Kvaraciejus’s interview