Emissions, Anthropogenicity and Experience from Other Countries: A Brief Guide to Forest Fire

Why struggle with the fact that there is millions of years – and what different countries think about this.

Quenching forests of Avialesohranoy in the Republic of Sakha and Buryatia, 2015 Photo by Anna Baskakova

Fire as a natural phenomenon was and remains an important factor in the dynamics of the Earth’s climate and in the development of ecosystems. Therefore, the fire is part of the normal forest process.

Fires in nature contribute to the growth of young plants – and by freeing the forest from unwanted undergrowth, and by fertilizing the soil. For some plants, fire is part of the reproductive cycle. For example, after a fire in the soil, a high nitrate content (nitrate), which is a natural fertilizer , is maintained for a long time .

Yet, unlike other natural disasters, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, a fire is perceived as a risk that can be avoided.

Should I avoid fires: the experience of Canada and other countries

The Canadian Forest Service ( CFS ) has been researching fires for decades. In recent years, attitudes toward forest fires in Canada have changed . If earlier extinguishing fires was an uncompromising and obligatory procedure, today fires are viewed through environmental and economic prisms.

Canadians allow forests to burn and ensure that the ignition area does not increase to critical values. As a result, only 3% of about 7.5 thousand of all forest fires that start every year in Canada (on average) exceed 200 hectares in area – but they constitute 97% of the total area of ​​burnt forest. As a result, about 2.5 million hectares of forest burn in Canada annually.

To control the fires, a specially developed model (CanFIRE) is used . It is based on the Canadian index of forest fire danger. This index is used by other countries – for example, France.

You might think that Canada does not fight forest fires, but it is not. The country has adopted a system of priorities , and priority areas effectively save from fire. For example, these include residential areas, valuable commercial forests and recreation areas: fire is eliminated there.

The United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand are partners in this issue and generally have a similar relationship to forest fires. In the US, for example, it is described in the national strategy for fighting forest fires. A few decades ago, the Americans refused to extinguish forest fires as the only strategy: the United States recognized that management is the best way to fight fire, and attempts to eliminate absolutely all forest fires that exacerbate the situation.

However, there is a fine line. Forest fires have few positive attitudes. Although fires have always existed on planet Earth and, as a result, critically did not harm nature, but from a social point of view, this phenomenon is still dangerous for humans.

Causes of forest fires

In dry hot weather, water evaporates from wood and combustible substances are released – for example, resin is released from pine. The drier the material, the greater the risk of fire.

Ignition can often occur among forest debris: deadwood, dry twigs, fallen conifer needles. The process of evaporation of water and the release of combustible substances from a plant is called pyrolysis. Due to the high temperature and abundance of oxygen, pyrolysis products are ignited. For maintaining fire, only about 16% of the oxygen content in the air is sufficient, and its average value over the planet is about 20%. A strong wind delivers oxygen, increasing the risk of fire and exacerbating the situation.

Forest fire in Olkhonsky district, Baikal, 2015. Photo by 

However, spontaneous combustion is a rather rare phenomenon compared to anthropogenic causes of a fire. Even lightning in arid hot weather is significantly inferior to cases of fires that have occurred through the fault of a person — such as burning garbage, smoking, damage to power lines, or careless handling of fire.

Is it possible to prevent fires and why

To prevent forest fires, dividing lanes are created in forests, forest belts around roads and agricultural facilities, and combustible forest material is artificially burned. Such actions often cause outrage in green defenders. For example, in the US animal rights activists, using the Endangered Species Act, periodically served a lawsuit against the Forest Service and win the argument. In 2013, one of these proceedings cost almost $ 10 million for the Forest Service .

This is not an exhaustive list of measures for the prevention of forest fires. Individual organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,create technical guidelines using global experience in dealing with forest fire problems.

In Russia in the summer of 2010 and 2012, due to the abnormally hot weather throughout the country there have been massive cases of forest fires. Negative environmental conditions subsequently affected the health of citizens: it was in 2010 recorded an increase in mortality of 17.5%.

Human life depends on the ecology of the environment. And uncontrolled fires contribute to global warming, air pollution, desertification and loss of biodiversity . Forest deposits carbon well, that is, it captures and retards CO2 emissions. The total carbon content in forest ecosystems is estimated at 638 gigatons , which exceeds the amount of carbon contained in the atmosphere. Every time during a forest fire a huge amount of carbon dioxide, soot, sulfur dioxide and other harmful substances is released .

Quenching forests of Avialesohranoy in the Republic of Sakha and Buryatia, 2015 Photo by Anna Baskakova

Why do forests burn in Russia and when they are extinguished

The forest in Russia burns with enviable regularity and huge areas annually. For example, in 2018, Greenpeace reported that during the fires in the Amur region in just one month, about 110 megatons of CO2 were emitted, which is almost twice the annual carbon emissions in Moscow. Greenpeace also noted that farmers and agricultural workers who burned debris and dry grass became the cause of the disaster, which ultimately went out of control and caused fires.

Among unofficial versions, the cause of frequent forest fires in the Far East is considered illegal or unscrupulous lumberjacks , who, after deforestation, leave a huge number of branches. In the sun, branches quickly dry out and become fire hazardous. In addition, fires may obscure the activities of poachers.

In July 2019, the area of ​​burnt forest was a record 3 million hectares in a short time, which is not very similar to the strategic management of forest fires. Is it possible to compare the tactics of the Russian authorities in the issue of regulating forest fires with the Canadian system?

Apparently, in Russia, the basis for a controlled (observed) fire is paragraph 8.1 of the order of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation of October 8, 2015 No. 426. It says: “Termination, suspension of work to extinguish a forest fire in the zone of control of forest fires in the absence of a threat to human settlements or objects of the economy in cases where the projected costs of extinguishing a forest fire exceed the projected damage.” This is the rationale for the “economic disadvantage” of extinguishing the forest, but there are no studies, indices, or methodologies that determine the amount of damage caused by the fire or its forecast for the near future.

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