BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Preventing forest fires
Australian forest fire
Australia now faces ferocious forest fires every year
Every year forest fires across the world, from Sydney to Siberia, wreak devastation.

Robert Henricks, a policy analyst for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA), says that one of the most important methods of fire prevention is educating the public.

More than four out of every five forest fires are started by people, according to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some, like the huge blaze in Australia in 2001, are due to arson but negligent behaviour such as smoking in forested areas or failing to extinguish campfires has caused many serious blazes.

Precautions

Mr Hendricks says that in arid areas such as the western United States and Australia, the vegetation dries out in the summer, increasing the risk of fire.

Public activities such as camping are therefore prohibited at these times of year.


If you are too zealous at preventing fires, you finish with a forest littered with highly flammable material

Charlton Clark, UK Forestry Commission
Special equipment is also needed when the risk of fire is high.

For instance, trains going through forested areas in western America are fitted with devices to prevent sparks on the tracks.

Another task for fire prevention officials is to remove as much dead wood as possible from forest areas.

Firebreaks are also widely used in containing fires in the US and throughout the world.

While they are often too expensive and unsightly to use extensively in natural forests, they are often used in commercially forested areas, especially when the timber is very valuable.

Fire prevention specialists frequently work in co-ordinated teams which are highly organised.

Specially trained agents are permanently on standby, with aircrafts and fire-suppression equipment in case a fire gets out of control.

Mr Hendricks says the approach is "like a military operation".

New homes

As populations increase, housing encroaches on forested areas and some of the most sought-after property locations are right on the edge of the forest.

Colorado fire
Building houses close to forestland is literally playing with fire
This "urban interface problem" is growing at an alarming rate in the US.

In Colorado, hit by fire this year, the population is expected to increase by 50% within 20 years, and many people will choose to live near forested land.

Robert Hendricks says that despite warnings from fire officials, people still want to build homes in these locations - frequently made of wood and surrounded by vegetation.

"Building a house like that is the same as putting a gas can right next to a fire," he said.

Controlled burning

One of the most controversial methods of fire prevention is controlled burning.

During the last 100 years, people have attempted to prevent fires in a way that nature never intended, says Mr Hendricks.

Consequently, because there are no natural fires, a build-up of dead wood and dense forest material has been allowed to accumulate - fuelling any future fire outbreak.

"If you are too zealous at preventing fires, you finish with a forest littered with highly flammable material," says Charlton Clark from the UK Forestry Commission.

Some areas, such as Australian bush land and the forests in the west of America, even depend on regular fires in order for certain species to regenerate. Fire is an essential part of the ecosystem.

So in recent years, fire prevention officials in the US and Australia - as well as other dry areas such as the Mediterranean and even Siberia - have increasingly started controlled fires to simulate the natural fires that used to occur.

According to the UK Forestry Commission, the practice is even used in wetter climates like Scotland, but much less frequently.


Key stories

TALKING POINT
See also:

12 Jun 02 | Americas
17 May 02 | Media reports
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes