Tack­ling the dry sea­son: how fire pre­ven­tion im­pacts the forestry in­dus­try

Australian Forests and Timber - - Fire Preparedness - By Steve Ni­chol­son Di­rec­tor of Sus­tain­abil­ity So­laris Pa­per

As many Aus­tralians gear up for sum­mer it’s quite easy to get wrapped up with plan­ning trips to the beach and sum­mer bar­be­ques. This is mainly to do with the ex­cel­lent cli­mate Australia has dur­ing the sum­mer months of De­cem­ber, Jan­uary, and Fe­bru­ary. Un­for­tu­nately, with that scorch­ing heat also comes the risk of bush­fires which can be de­bil­i­tat­ing to not only com­mu­ni­ties but in­dus­tries like forestry as well. Com­mu­ni­ties in In­done­sia know this all too well as pulp and pa­per com­pa­nies like Asia Pulp and Pa­per (APP) must also bat­tle ex­treme heat and weather in or­der to pro­tect its in­dus­try as well as the lo­cal com­mu­nity and at times the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

In places such as Australia and In­done­sia where for­est fires can eas­ily hap­pen dur­ing the hot dry sum­mers, it is cru­cial that for­est plan­ta­tions im­ple­ment In­te­grated Fire Man­age­ment to com­bat fires that could have dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects if left unchecked. With the tech­nol­ogy now avail­able, or­gan­i­sa­tions must take ad­van­tage of tra­di­tional and tech­no­log­i­cal strate­gies and prac­tice fire pre­ven­tion, prepa­ra­tion, and early de­tec­tion to counter fire out­breaks.

Pre­ven­tion

One of the best ways to fight for­est fires is by pre­vent­ing them from hap­pen­ing in the first place. This is eas­ier said than done, but one strat­egy that helps is a pro­ce­dure called ‘Canal Block­ing’. Canal Block­ing is where large ditches are dug out around the perime­ter of the plan­ta­tion and filled with wa­ter, form­ing a canal. The canal not only keeps the area around the plan­ta­tion hy­drated pre­vent­ing dry grass ar­eas to burn but in the case of a fire in the plan­ta­tion, the canals can con­tain the burn.

An­other method to pre­vent fires from break­ing out is by get­ting the com­mu­nity in­volved. Fires neg­a­tively af­fect com­mu­ni­ties more than any­thing, par­tic­u­larly those whose liveli­hoods are de­pen­dent on the land they live on. It is im­por­tant that for­est plan­ta­tions com­mu­ni­cate with the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, en­sur­ing there are es­tab­lished bound­aries made up be­tween the com­mu­nity and the plan­ta­tion to en­sure com­mu­nity agri­cul­tural ef­forts don’t cause a fire close to a plan­ta­tion. By teach­ing the com­mu­nity pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures and in­clud­ing them in train­ing, it is a way to not only pre­vent fires but grow the econ­omy and food se­cu­rity of a com­mu­nity.

Prepa­ra­tion

Prepa­ra­tion is key when han­dling prob­lems, the right way as op­posed to the wrong way. In the tra­di­tional sense, ba­sic fire train­ing is a ne­ces­sity when it comes to deal­ing with forests and fire risks dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son. Hav­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing car­ried out by a third party or a lo­cal fire depart­ment that spe­cialises in fight­ing for­est fires is also an im­por­tant tool to be­ing pre­pared for a fire if one breaks out. Of course, the train­ing would be ir­rel­e­vant if there was not a des­ig­nated team to con­stantly train, ob­serve, and take ac­tion in the case of a fire.

An­other im­por­tant part of be­ing pre­pared for the sum­mer sea­son is hav­ing the right tools avail­able to pre­vent and fight a fire. Ob­ser­va­tion tow­ers strate­gi­cally placed around the plan­ta­tion to pro­vide 360-de­gree views at all times paired up with strate­gi­cally placed wet line sprin­klers and hoses can as­sist in keep­ing the fire fight­ing team on the front foot when watch­ing for early signs of a fire. When a fire does break out, the right equip­ment on hand is im­per­a­tive, es­pe­cially when a for­est plan­ta­tion can cover hectares of land. Trans­porta­tion trucks are cru­cial to get­ting the fire fight­ing team from their base to the fire, ad­di­tional trucks that can carry wa­ter, pumps, gen­er­a­tors and hoses are also im­por­tant to en­sure the fire fight­ers have ev­ery­thing they need close by to fight the flames. Prepa­ra­tion can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween catas­tro­phe and sav­ing a lo­cal com­mu­nity.

De­tec­tion

When a fire breaks out de­tec­tion can make the dif­fer­ence in fight­ing a fire that takes a few hours to ex­tin­guish, to a fire that takes days to ex­tin­guish. APP, like many for­est plan­ta­tions, has a sit­u­a­tion room that acts as the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem for fire op­er­a­tions. The sit­u­a­tion room at APP has some of the most cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy avail­able to en­sure the most ac­cu­rate ob­ser­va­tion and readings are ob­tain­able. Through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of sur­veil­lance cam­eras, ther­mal in­frared, short­wave in­frared, and op­ti­cal ob­ser­va­tion tech­nol­ogy, the sit­u­a­tion room has a con­stant flow of data avail­able to mon­i­tor the state of the plan­ta­tion. Hot Spot mon­i­tor­ing is also de­ployed. This mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem uses geospa­tial tech­nol­ogy to de­tect if the en­vi­ron­ment is right for a fire. This is an early warn­ing de­tec­tion sys­tem that will alert fire fight­ers to cer­tain “hot spots” be­fore they be­come a fire so ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures can be taken.

Take ac­tion

Un­for­tu­nately, some­times nat­u­ral dis­as­ters still hap­pen no mat­ter how pre­pared you are. In times when fires do break out, it is im­por­tant for the sit­u­a­tion room to com­mand and con­trol the sit­u­a­tion and or­ches­trate a rapid re­sponse. They must co­or­di­nate fire fight­ers, he­li­copter sup­port to drop wa­ter on flames, and en­sure the com­mu­nity is aware of the risks they face. Fight­ing fire will al­ways be a stress­ful job dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son on for­est plan­ta­tions. By en­sur­ing pre­ven­ta­tive ac­tions are in place, be­ing pre­pared, and hav­ing early de­tec­tion tech­nol­ogy avail­able we can tackle the dry sea­son the best way pos­si­ble.

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