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